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Washington Nationals’ Carter Kieboom still a work in progress on both sides

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Carter Kieboom isn’t exactly off to a hot start this Spring, but you can’t put too much (if any) emphasis on a couple weeks of stats... especially not in Spring Training.

Tampa Bay Rays v Washington Nationals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Carter Kieboom, who was drafted as a shortstop in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft, (taken 28th overall), learned early this winter he would be making the transition to third this year, something he said gave him ample time to prepare for the relatively new position.

Though he had just 10 games of experience at the hot corner in his career, the 22-year-old infielder said he played third growing up and was confident he could make the transition.

“I grew up playing a lot of third base,” Kieboom said when asked if he felt more comfortable at second or third at that point. “Obviously, at the professional level I don’t have very many reps at third base, as well as second base, I don’t have too much as compared to what some guys get, but I really feel comfortable at both of them. I look forward to showing everybody what I can do at both of them, especially at third base in Spring Training. That’s something that I’ve really worked on this offseason, aside from the hitting and some second base, and still doing some stuff at shortstop, you never know, but third base is something I’m really looking forward to.”

Having played short, second, and third at times early in his professional career, Kieboom said he was also aware of how much there was to learn.

“All of them, they’re all slightly different in different ways,” he said, “... but they all — it’s the same fundamentals at the end of the day, you still have to get behind the ball, you still have to do stuff, and third base, obviously the ball gets on you quicker, but you also have more time to get it over there [to first base]. I know it’s a longer throw, but the ball gets on you quick over there and it’s a matter of not rushing and staying calm out there, versus second you have a lot of redirection and stuff like that, shortstop, the momentum unless it’s a backhand is kind of handed to you. Third base is different. It’s kind of like first base but you have to throw across the infield.”

Tim Bogar, who moved from his role as the Nationals’ first base coach to bench coach this season, but is still working with the club’s infielders as he has in the last two seasons, said that one of the challenges of moving to third is how quickly the ball gets to you compared to the middle infield spots.

“Playing all those different positions, at third base the ball gets at you pretty quick, and [you have] to understand the angles and when I can go get it and when I can back off,” he said.

“Most times out in the middle of the field you have a little more time.”

Having the offseason to work at third base, knowing that’s where the Nationals wanted him this season, Kieboom said once he arrived at Spring Training, allowed him to focus on that one position as opposed to previous seasons when he didn’t know where he’d be needed if he got called up, which he was for a short, tough stint early last season.

“It always helps when you have a little reassurance as to what your primary goal is for the season,” Kieboom explained. “Last year, I came in, I did... I played a lot of shortstop still and worked on a lot of second base last year, so I was doing two positions, and now that I kind of knew ahead of time what the primary goal was, and that’s third base, now I’m not doing 50/50 or 60/40, I’m doing 100% third base and that’s the task at hand and that’s always very helpful.”

Kieboom said he was as prepared as he’s ever felt for the new position, though he was clear once again that there was a lot to learn at a difficult spot.

“You still have short hops, long hops, the ball just gets on you a little bit quicker. You’re not making necessarily reads in terms of five-six steps, your reads now are maybe a drop-step or two-three steps and a dive. So everything is a little bit shorter, but you also do have a lot of time and that’s something that — it is a longer throw, but you do have time because it gets on you so quick over there, and that’s just something that I just feel very comfortable over there, I really do, and I’m excited to get out there and start playing.”

“The more reps you get out there the more you can fine-tune things,” he added when asked about manager Davey Martinez’s suggestion that he play a little deeper for obvious reasons.

“I like playing back — I mean that just gives you more time,” Kieboom said. “Everybody hits the ball hard now, so the more time you have the better, and catch it first and then go from there. I’ve watched a little bit of video where other guys, other third basemen have played, but that’s them, and I pick and choose what I like to do from what those guys did, whoever I watched, and then I fine-tune it from there, and in practice every morning I’ve messed around, going a little bit further back, maybe just a step forward and a little bit over to my left, right, and then nowadays with all the shifting there is no one set spot to play the position, you’re going to be bouncing around no matter what, so it’s really just a matter of getting comfortable at every spot on the field.”

While he’s looked shaky at the start of Grapefruit League action, with two errors early, and a misplay over this past weekend that was ruled a hit by the official scorer, his manager Davey Martinez has cautioned that it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

“He’s learning a new position,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman last week.

“I think he’s going to be fine over there, I really do. It’s his first real major league game over there yesterday. But I talked to [Tim Bogar]. We saw some good things. And I talked to him a little bit today about some of the things we want him to hone in on.”

“The game gets quicker,” Martinez said. “That’s something a young player needs to understand. ... Now it’s just getting him out there and getting him reps out there.”

Martinez chalked the misplay over this past weekend up to the conditions at Jupiter, FL’s Roger Dean Stadium.

“To me, this is hardest field to play the infield,” Martinez told reporters, including MASN’s Pete Kerzel.

“The ball comes off of that (cream-colored) backdrop, you really can’t see it. So I’m not going to really evaluate what he does here on the field. He’ll come back home and play tomorrow.”

Along with two errors in the field, Kieboom has gotten off to a bit of a rough start at the plate, going 1 for 12 through his first six games this Spring, with six walks total and five Ks early in Grapefruit League action.

His manager said he has daily conversations with the infielder, and reiterated that it’s way too early to draw any conclusions.

“We’re 15 or 20 at-bats in,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Kerzel on Monday.

“I mean, I don’t base a lot of things on Spring Training. There’s guys that hit .450 in Spring Training and are career .210 hitters. But I just want him to relax, have fun and play. I told him, I said, ‘For me, you don’t have to impress anybody here.’ He’s 22 years old, getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues already. I said, ‘You’re doing awesome, so just go out there and have fun.’”

Easier said than done when you’re experiencing difficulties at a new position, but good advice nonetheless.

Hopefully, Kieboom takes it and continues to develop at his own pace with the start of the season still weeks away.