Carter Kieboom was 10 for 50 (.200/.359/.200) with no extra base hits, 11 walks, and 20 Ks in 17 games and 64 plate appearances before the Washington Nationals sent the 2016 first round pick down to their Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia on August 26th.
“He was struggling,” Martinez said once the move was made, “... and I want to protect him the best I can.
“I felt like ... he was playing more for results, and when you start doing that, you start getting frustrated when you don’t get the hits.”
In other words, Martinez said, Kieboom was struggling, and pressing.
“As a young kid, you want to go out there, you want to impress, you want to help your team win, and then sometimes you get results-driven and you just want to get hits,” he added.
“When we assessed Carter at the time he was trending downward,” Martinez told reporters this past week.
“And we wanted to make sure that he didn’t just completely go downhill. We wanted to get him to kind of relax and get as many at bats as he needs without putting any pressure on himself. We’re watching him. He’s actually swinging the bat better. So we’ll see in the next week or so. I’d love to get him back up here and let him play.
“I want him to just gain some confidence again and then when he comes up here see what he can do.”
Ten days later, the Nationals called their top infield prospect back up, and Martinez told him that he was going to play every day the rest of the way, because they need to see what he’s able to do.
“We talked about it,” the manager said. “We sent Carter down, he was doing well, wanted to bring him back up.
“We made the decision to designate [Wilmer] Difo to make room for Carter.
“Carter is going to play third base. I just talked to him. He’s going to play third base for the rest of this year. We got to see what we got, we want him to play. I told him, I said, you’ll bat somewhere in the middle of the lineup, so just go out there and have fun and do your thing. But we got to see what he can do.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for him to go out there and play every day, and see what he’s got.”
Asked what he’d be watching down the stretch and what he’d be looking for from his third baseman, Martinez said he told Kieboom the same thing he tells all his young players.
“I just want him to be himself and go out there and have fun. Just do the little things. Be a good baserunner, if you get a chance to drive in runners just move the baseball, and play good defense. Those are the things I expect from him. He understands that, he’s been told before, so hopefully he comes up here, he’s ready, I know he’s been swinging the bat better, so we’ll see today, he’s going to get an opportunity to play today and play out the rest of the year, until he tells me he can’t.”
Martinez said he knew that Kieboom had been swinging the bat well based on video he’s seen and reports he’s received from the club’s Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg.
“I’ve seen some film of him hitting, his at bats, I talked to Randy Knorr, who’s down there with him. [Hitting Coach Brian] Daubach has relayed messages through emails and stuff.
“Yeah, they said the biggest thing was getting him ready to hit fastballs, they did that with him, they worked with him, so hopefully he can come up here and he just continues to do what he did down there.
“That’s exactly what I told him, I said, ‘Hey, whatever you did down there, nothing changes, just come up here and do the same thing and just go out there and like I said, have fun.”
Kieboom got 10 days to work on things and he was back, and with Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, and Josh Harrison as of now day-to-day with injuries, the Nationals could use another bat in their lineup. Was the plan to bring him back after ten days all along?
“When I told him I said we wanted him to go down there and work on his swing, and if we deemed he was ready in 10 days we’d bring him back up,” Martinez explained, “... and it so happens, he started hitting the ball really well and it worked out that this was the 10th day, and we were able to get him back up here and we need his bat in the lineup. So it’s good for him that he went down there and worked hard to get back. We felt like he worked on some things on his swing. We know he can hit, and we know he can play.
“He’s 23 years old, he’s one of our top prospects, so he’s going to get the opportunity to play and hopefully help us win some games.”
In his first at bat back in the lineup, Kieboom stepped in with two on and two out in the first and drove in a run with an opposite field single.
Kieboom finished his first game back 1 for 4 with a walk, two Ks, and two runs scored.
“He was good,” Martinez said after the Nationals’ 10-4 win. “Got a base hit there, drew a walk, which I like, especially out of a young hitter. He looked fine. He ran the bases really well too, I mean, really well.
“Went first to third today, which was tremendous,” the manager added.
“And then going halfway and tagging up, those are the kind of things I like to see in young players, see how intuitive they are, and just work good at bats.”
Martinez said his message for Kieboom before today’s game was simple.
“I told him I said, look, you have a great opportunity here at a very young age. Enjoy it. I tell everybody up here, you don’t know how long this lasts, so while you’re up here have fun doing what you do and enjoy it. I said, ‘We think the world of you. You’re here because we know you can play up here, so just have fun and go out there, and enjoy what you do.’”
Kieboom was asked what his focus was and what he tried to change in Fredericksburg.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t really — we had a lot of early mornings when we were down there. I first went in the cage and did a couple rounds of front toss and just went out there and swung. I had anywhere from 5-7 at bats, maybe eight at bats, in the span of an hour, so there was no thinking, I just went up there, grip it and rip it, and just go that route.
“I can think, think, think, and then try to overcomplicate something that at the end of the day all we try to do is make it as simple as possible.
“So I went down there and I didn’t think about anything, I didn’t think about changing anything, I just went with whatever I stepped in the box with and that’s how I hit.”
Was it important to get the vote of confidence from his manager that he’s going to play every day now that he’s back up?
“It’s good,” Kieboom said. “I mean, I think it’s what I need. I need to play every day. I need to go out there and play as much as possible and see the action. It’s kind of what I did in the minor leagues, I played, I know it’s different up here, and different circumstances, but I struggled down there too at times, but there was never a doubt in my mind where I struggled that I wasn’t going to play the next day. When I struggled I played the next day, and all of a sudden those four at bats don’t feel like 20 at bats. They’re four at bats, because you know you’re going to go out there and play the next day and get four more. It’s nice to know that I’ll be able to play a lot more now and we’ll see.”