Carter Kieboom’s 2020 season didn’t go or end the way that he wanted it to. A left wrist contusion ended his season prematurely, but the 22-year-old converted third baseman’s take on his rookie campaign is that there were positives he can take into the winter.
Kieboom put up a .202/.344/.212 line, with just one extra base hit, a double, 17 walks, and 33 Ks in 122 plate appearances, over which he was worth -0.3 fWAR.
“There was definitely some positives to take away from this season,” Kieboom said in a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday afternoon.
“I was very happy with the way defense went this year,” the 2016 1st Round pick, who was drafted as a shortstop, explained.
“It was a new position and that was my big challenge to myself this year, was learning that position and trying to maintain it and play it to the best I can.
“I was very happy with the way that went, and the success and all the stuff that I’ve worked on and all the failure, and learn from those mistakes.
“I was very pleased with the way that went.”
On the offensive end, of course, it was a struggle. Kieboom was sent down to the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site at one point, after he, according to manager Davey Martinez and GM Mike Rizzo, fell into some bad habits and, as Martinez put it, “was playing more for results ... and when you start doing that, you start getting frustrated when you don’t get the hits.”
He had hits in three of the first four games he played after returning from a week plus spent working on his swing, and put together a five-game hit streak at one point in September, in which he went 6 for 16, but in the end he put up a .200/.359/.200 line in July/ August and a .204/.328/.224 line in the final month.
“From an [offensive] standpoint,” Kieboom said, “... obviously it was not the way I wanted it to go, but I learned a lot, I’m getting more and more comfortable.
“I had some days where I felt really good at the plate, and it was tough to keep it going. I had it for a day or two and then three days, and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s going, it’s going.’
“And then, it kind of — whatever happened, I kind of lost it, that’s just kind of the way it was, a lot of ups and a lot of downs, so definitely some stuff I’m looking to go into the offseason, I’m working on, and maintaining the swing and try to be consistent as possible and a lot of it, I don’t necessarily always think it’s the swing, it’s more of an approach, and that’s kind of what I worked on a lot this year. I tried many different approaches, and different ways to attack pitchers and stuff like that.”
His manager, asked about Kieboom’s tinkering and changing his approach, and how difficult it is for a young player to do that in-season, said it’s something that happens a lot, when it all of a sudden doesn’t happen at the plate once a hitter first makes the jump to the majors.
“He’s never struggled in the past,” Martinez said, “and he’s always — so for me it’s about getting back to who you are and knowing who you are, and don’t try to make like big adjustments, just make very simple adjustments.
“That’s something that we’ve talked about, something that he’s going to work on this winter, and just keep it simple.
“And I’ve always said, hey, you hit before, you’re going to hit again. Your two-strike approach was actually really good, accepted his walks. So that’s key to me when you’re a young hitter.
“Just go out there, and the fact is when you get a good ball to hit, you put a good swing on it, and you want to put it in play, you don’t want to foul balls off, so, for him, his timing was sometimes a little off, we talked about that a lot with him. But I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get an opportunity to come here and do it again. Unfortunately, your season ended with a hand injury, nothing you can do about it, so but let’s work this winter, get stronger, keep working on your defense, and come back in Spring Training ready to go.”
Kieboom kept searching for a fix all season, and as he said, found some things that worked, if only for a brief time.
“I found some that they work and then that approach kind of ran out pretty quickly,” he said.
“So it was really just finding the right wave to ride and I road that one as long as I could, and then when it ran out for a couple days I tried to find another one. And sometimes it’s just the way it is, and with the short season, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to let something stick out for a little bit longer than you could if you had a long season, you’ve got to make a lot of adjustments a little bit quicker and more rapid, so, that’s where I’m at. I’m pleased in a sense, me personally, with a season when I can take a lot of positives away from it.
“Obviously from a team standpoint it’s not where we wanted to end up, with not just winning a lot of games, we had a lot of injuries this year and they kind of accumulated pretty quickly here at the end, but I think we’re going to end this season on a high note, and we’re all looking forward to coming back next year and hopefully getting to play a full season next year and get back to the normal game we’re all used to.”