WASHINGTON - Carter Kieboom calmly watched ball four then strolled to first base, where he did a fist bump with coach Bob Henley.
The subtle bases-loaded walk by Kieboom, 22, that brought in a run in the fifth inning Sunday against the Marlins was lost in an inning that included another hit by Luis García and a two-run triple by Trea Turner.
But the maturation of third baseman Kieboom - who made his Major League debut last season - continues out of the limelight with García making his debut on the infield this month while the Nationals deal with injuries to established stars such as Stephen Strasburg and Starlin Castro.
“I love the walks, man, especially when you’re young. Taking your walks is key in this league, and when you can do that, especially in a high-leverage situation like that, and be patient, that’s a good sign, that’s definitely a good sign,” manager Dave Martinez said after Sunday’s 9-3 win. “It was a good at bat for him, got the walk, got the RBI, but he turned it over to his teammate, which we like.”
But while he struggles some at the plate producing power, Kieboom has been solid on defense at third base this summer with just one error. Kieboom set a team record - bettering the standard of Ryan Zimmerman - when he had 11 assists as a third sacker in Baltimore against the Orioles in 15-3 win on August 14.
When he came to the majors last year, Kieboom struggled in the field as he played short on a regular basis with an injury to Trea Turner. In 10 games at short, Kieboom made four errors before he was sent back to Triple-A Fresno of the Pacific Coast League. There, he got experience at several spots on the infield.
Jeff Garber, the co-field director in player development with the Nationals, has worked with infielders in the system for more than 10 years. He worked with Kieboom after he was drafted as a shortstop out of his Georgia high school in the first round in 2016.
“He works extremely hard,” Garber told Federal Baseball on Sunday. “He rarely makes the same mistake twice. We are blessed to have several on the infield” who came up as shortstops.
With former third baseman Anthony Rendon signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent, Martinez and the organization wanted Kieboom to seize the job at third base back at West Palm Beach during spring training. After the pandemic shutdown, Kieboom had to win the job again.
“The bottom line is (coaches) Tim Bogar and Chip Hale have done a great job with him to adjust to the third-base position at the Major League level,” said Garber, a former shortstop at James Madison University and in the minors with Kansas City. “It is really exciting to watch him play. I know he was drafted as a shortstop. He wants to learn the game. You want good athletes who can move around the field.”
Kieboom hit .303 with a .903 OPS and 16 homers last season in the hitter-friendy Pacific Coast League while batting .128 with two homers in 39 at-bats at the Major League level in his spring debut.
This season, he is batting .217 with five RBI and eight runs scored. But hits are just one way to keep the line moving.
“We always talk about how do you become a really good teammate, hey, that’s part of it, taking your walks, being a better baserunner for your teammates. Those things pump guys up and it goes a long way with these guys,” Martinez said Sunday.