Carter Kieboom struggled in 2020’s 60-game campaign, was sent down to the Washington Nationals’ Alternate Training site in Fredericksburg, VA at one point, then had a bone bruise in his left hand (the result of a hit-by-pitch) end his season prematurely.
Kieboom ended up going 20 for 99 (.202/.344/.212) with just one extra base hit in 122 plate appearances over 33 games last season, leaving the 23-year-old, 2016 first round pick (28th overall) at .181/.309/.232 with a double and two homers in 44 games and 165 PAs at the big league level, over which he’s taken 21 walks and struck out 49 times.
In the minors, the shortstop-turned-third-baseman has put up a .287/.378/.469 line with 79 doubles and 45 home runs in 329 games and 1,462 PAs.
Going into this offseason, the Nationals had a number of holes to fill, and as GM Mike Rizzo said in his first Zoom call of Spring Training with reporters today, they feel they did a really good job of addressing their needs, but they did not really considered adding help over at third base.
“We really didn’t,” Rizzo explained. “We have confidence in Kieboom that he’s going to be a good player.”
The club did, of course, draft Kieboom out of high school (having previously drafted brother Spencer Kieboom), and they’ve developed him, and brought him up to the big leagues at 21 years old in 2019, so they think they know what they have, even if he hasn’t shown it thus far in his major league career.
“We’ve got too many guys with too many eyes on him that think he’s going to be a really good big league player,” Rizzo said, “and I’m not going to judge any player off — what 140 plate appearances in his major league career?
“We see him as a guy with great upside for us, that is going to be a really good player for us.”
Rizzo, in his various roles as a scout, scouting director, assistant GM, and eventually GM and now the President of Baseball Operations in D.C., has overseen the development of plenty of high-end and long shot prospects, and he knows, he said, not to judge players too early in their careers.
“I kind of look back where my experience is with young players who start off slow,” Rizzo said, reaching back to his time in the Chicago White Sox’ organization for an example of another player who struggled early in what ended up being an impressive career.
“If we listen to Twitter world, we would have gotten rid of Robin Ventura, who was 0 for 48 or something like that in his early days in the big leagues. So, these things are — it’s hard to judge on these short snippets of games and at bats, and we have to lean towards our evaluators who have seen them for years and progressed through the system and trust that he’s the player that we think he is.”
Don’t get hung up on the timeline — Twitter launched in 2006 — he’s making a relevant point.
It wasn’t actually that bad for Ventura, a 1988 1st Round pick (10th overall) but the 16-year veteran did actually go just 8 for 45 (.178/.298/.244) with three extra base hits in his first taste of big league action in 1989. He went on to play 15 more seasons in the majors, over which he put up a combined .267/.362/.444 line.
Rizzo didn’t need to look far for another example of a player who struggled early in their big league career.
“I was a guy when I came up,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said in his own Zoom call from Spring Training, “... and I told Rizzo this — my first 52 games, I think I ended up hitting like .139.
“So, for me to judge a kid, a prospect, after 44 games and a hundred-something at bats, it doesn’t seem right.”
Martinez did put up a .139/.190/.194 line with a double, triple, and homer in 53 games and 116 PAs when he was first called up by Chicago’s Cubs in 1986, before going on to play 16 seasons in the majors.
Kieboom has had success at every level on the way up, and the Nationals believe he’s going to sort things out in the big leagues.
“I see a guy who changed positions at the big league level,” Rizzo added, “performed well defensively for us, and a guy who’s kind of getting his offensive feet underneath him.
“Again, 44 big league games, kind of sporadically over two seasons, we’re not going to make any drastic evaluations there. We had seen the kid play since his junior year of high school. Everybody who laid eyes on him had him as a big-time prospect and a guy who’s going to help us a lot.”
“Here’s a kid that has had so much success in the minor leagues, and we really feel like he can bring that success up here. I just want Carter to go out there and have fun, relax, and just play the game like he’s played it in the minor leagues,” Martinez said.
“I talked to Rizzo about this and we’ve had unbelievable conversations about him. I 100% believe in Carter, I think he can help us.”
Kieboom will get every opportunity to lock down the hot corner spot in Spring Training, and his manager said he has liked the progress he’s seen from the infielder defensively at third, even though he’s struggled at the plate.
“I’m going to give him every opportunity to go out there and be our third baseman. If he’s our third baseman, it’s going to make us a whole lot better. I want him to go out there and play like the job is his, and then we’ll go from there.
“He understands that, he know that, and we’ll see what happens.”