In the midst of a solid stretch at the plate in late-July/mid-August, after he was called back up from Triple-A following an injury to Jordy Mercer, Carter Kieboom talked to reporters in the nation’s capital about the support from the Washington Nationals, as an organization, over the past few seasons, as he’s struggled to adjust to the major league game and hit at the big league level.
“It’s huge,” the 2016 Nationals’ 1st Round pick said. “As a player, you just want the support.
“They all understand that this game is tough and everybody goes through struggles at times, and it’s never — it’s kind of unfortunate that it was when I first starting to come up here that I struggled, so it made it a little more difficult, but I will always appreciate the Nationals for how they stuck with me throughout that process and gave me another opportunity, so that’s huge and I’ll be grateful for that forever.”
Kieboom was 0 for 8 in his first three games back in the majors in July, but over a 19-game stretch that followed, he went 20 for 65 (.308/.373/.477) with two doubles, three home runs, seven walks, and 18 Ks in 75 plate appearances, providing a glimpse of what he’d capable of doing when he is locked in at the plate.
“I just feel like I’m in control in the batter’s box now,” the 24-year-old infielder explained at the time.
“I feel like I’m giving myself a huge chance to succeed at this point, versus in the past I was scuffling and I wasn’t driving the baseball. So, I’m ready to hit now, and in terms of being comfortable and slowing it down, I think just experience, being up here last year and a little bit the year before, and being around all these guys all the time in Spring Training, just gives you a sense of being comfortable. So yeah, I feel a lot better, and I think that’s just because of being ready to hit and as well as being up here for a couple years now.”
Kieboom hit three of his six home runs on the season over an 11-game stretch at the end of August which followed his hot streak, but he hit just .175 in 48 PAs in those games, and the final month of the season (.175/.254/.204, three doubles in 114 PAs) was a tough one for the infielder, who wrapped up his third run in the majors with a .207/.301/.318 line, six doubles, six home runs, 25 walks, and 62 Ks in 62 games and 249 PAs on the year.
Assistant GM, Player Development, Mark Scialabba, told FBB’s Blake Finney in August that Kieboom (and 21-year-old infielder Luis García) were, “starting to show what they can do, and they’ve shown that through the minor leagues. And we feel like those two have the chance to be very impactful everyday players.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked in late September about what strides Kieboom has made and what improvement he’d seen from the infielder in the 2021 campaign.
“His defense has definitely improved, you know, for me,” Martinez said of the work that the shortstop-turned third baseman has done at the hot corner.
“He’s only been playing that position for a short time, he has gotten better. Of course, he’s got to continue to work and get better, but I’ve seen that better, and also, even though his numbers don’t say it, his at-bats have been a lot better, they really have, and the other day, after missing a couple of days, I thought he had a really good day at the plate, he hit three balls pretty good, got a couple hits, and for me it was more effortless, his at-bats the other day, and I’m going to talk to him today about that, just a lot more — less effort, talking about him jumping at the ball, just staying back, using your hands a little bit, and just trying to hit the ball up the middle.
“I had the same conversation with [Kyle] Schwarber when we moved him to leadoff, just try to hit singles, and I told [Kieboom] yesterday, and he had a good day, so I’m going to reiterate that to him, just go up there and just try to hit singles and get on base and good things will happen.”
“I think he’s shown flashes offensively of a power stroke,” GM Mike Rizzo said on the final day of the regular season when asked about Kieboom’s progress this year.
“He knows the strike zone very, very well, it’s a matter with him of making adjustments. He started off with six quick home runs [in July/August this year], and the league made an adjustment with him, now it’s time for him to make adjustment to the league, and the great ones do it, and the average ones don’t.
“The jury is still out if he can make those adjustments, but he’s got the skill set and the tools to be a really good players in the big leagues, and again, we just have to have patience with a player who was a high school draft that takes a little bit longer to develop.”
“Kieboom, adjusting to a new position,” Rizzo added, “I’ve seen improvement in his footwork and his throwing motion so let’s see if he takes the next step.”
New hitting coach Darnell Coles said this week that he hopes he can help Kieboom take the next step.
“[Carter] Kieboom — let’s go there, like Austin Riley for Atlanta, for the last couple years there have been struggles, you know the thought of sending him up and down based on development,” Coles said. “Is he ready? Is he not ready? But I think that I’m a player development guy, and a lot of my player development was brought about in this organization, so I understand what it takes to be patient with hitters, what it takes to sit down and talk to guys about their at-bats, and understand what they were thinking, what actually happened, and then how we correct it moving forward.
“So you have those sort of conversations and sometimes those conversations are tough, you know, where you have to go down to the end of the bench and say, ‘Okay, I get it, but in that situation that wasn’t the right time to swing or be over-aggressive, because we had a pinch hitter coming behind.’
“Whatever the conversation is you got to be willing to pat them on the back when you need to, hug them when you need to, and then kind of push them along when you have to and be a little more stern.
“But I think at the end of the day, so long as they know you love them and they have a trust in you, then that’s going to allow us to make the adjustments necessary so that these guys can flourish on a daily basis.”