Mike Rizzo drafted Carter Kieboom, oversaw his development in the minors, then called the 2016 first round draft pick up to the majors, so he is not going to give up on the 23-year-old infielder after just 44 games and 165 plate appearances in the majors, which have not gone well (.181/.309/.232) for the shortstop-turned-third-baseman.
“We have confidence in Kieboom that he’s going to be a good player. 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, and I’m not going to judge any player off — what 140 plate appearances in his major league career,” Rizzo said early in Spring Training.
“We see him as a guy with great upside for us, that is going to be a really good player for us.”
Kieboom debuted in the majors with 43 PAs over 11 games in 2019, filling in at short for a bit that year, but he moved to third and made the Opening Day roster last season, for the 2020 COVID campaign, and struggled at the plate, going 20 for 99 with just one extra base hit, a double, 17 walks, and 33 strikeouts in 122 PAs.
In four seasons, 329 games, and 1,462 PAs in the minors on his way up, Kieboom posted a combined .287/.378/.469 line, and earned the confidence of the player development staff and his manager in the majors.
“Hopefully this year he can put it all together” Davey Martinez said earlier this week.
“He’s still young,’ Martinez added. “He’s so young, and we can’t give up on guys like him that [were] unbelievable throughout [their] whole minor league career, and we know the upside in him, but other teams, during the winter are calling to make deals and trades, and they always ask about a certain player, which, he is one of them, that makes you feel good about what you have. Myself and Rizzo, we talked a lot about him this winter, and we feel like he can handle third base over there and we’re going to give him every opportunity to do that.”
Kieboom, while surely appreciating the public support, said on Wednesday that neither his GM or manager have felt the need to assure him that the third base job is his to lose as the club gets going in West Palm Beach, FL.
“I think what’s understood doesn’t need to be discussed,” Kieboom said. He knows what he needs to do.
“Just go play third base and just go play your game and do your job. We don’t need to talk, business, you could say, we don’t need to talk that kind of manner of things.
“I think it’s an understood thing where — Carter, go play, man. Do your thing. And take care of whatever needs to happen. That’s the way I go about it. I talk to Davey every day, say hello, but it’s not the stuff where you sit down and, ‘You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’
“‘We think you’re only going to plays six days a week, or four days,’ whatever it is, it’s — what’s understood doesn’t need to be discussed.”
What’s understood, is that he has to produce at the plate.
Everyone involved was happy with his development at third base, but no one has any illusions about the issues at the plate.
He has to, or has to try to, learn from the early big league career struggles.
“It definitely can help him. It all depends on how you face the adversity and failure. And Carter, he’s done well. He’s always upbeat,” the skipper said.
“He knows — he left last year knowing that he has to get better. [Rizzo] and I both have told him many, many times that we believe in him. And he’s going to get every opportunity. He’s another guy that’s ready. He looks good. We talked to him about his agility and he took it serious, and he’s moving really well.”
Do the questions about Kieboom being the everyday third baseman, and how long the club can stick with him if he continues to struggle, just add to the pressure?
“Fair question. I mean, honest answer really is, ‘No,’” Kieboom said.
“It’s still the same game I’m playing, and I have an opportunity right here. And I know I stick to my guns and I stick to what I know and do best.
“This game is crazy and works in mysterious ways, and anybody who has played it knows you’re going to go through a time in your life where you’re going to struggle, and it happens, it sucks, but it’s life, and what do we do, we wake up the next day and we try all over again. And that’s all I’ve done and that’s kind of been my motto: Every day is a new day, especially when you’re being scrutinized. Especially when you’re in the big leagues.”
“Everything is highlighted,” he continued. “It’s emphasized a lot more, and the best way to go about it for me, is just every day is a new day.
“There’s new opportunities, it’s a new time to have success, so for me it’s just another day and another opportunity to play third base in the big leagues.”
Kieboom worked to stay in shape, but took some time away from the game as he explained, to let the bone bruise on his hand, which ended his 2020 campaign prematurely, heal up in the weeks after last season ended, but he got back to work quickly. His focus this winter?
“Just fine-tuning the swing and getting it to where it used to be and making sure you’re just in a good position to hit. But it was very straightforward,” he explained.
“Nothing going on, just work out and get your baseball stuff in, and be ready to go for Spring.”
Kieboom took his walks, and put together good, patient plate appearances at time, but the issues the plate, he said, were basic.
“I think the approach was there for me,” the 28th overall pick in 2016 said. “I felt like I had a good idea what I was doing at the plate. The common theme was just missing stuff. Just missing pitches. Just fouling off too much stuff and not taking advantage of a cookie when it was given. So really it wasn’t like back to the drawing boards, alright, here we go, square one.
“It was, ‘Alright, what was different this year with your swing?’ and stuff like that, versus the years in the minor leagues. What was different? And we figured it out.”
Kieboom went back to footage from times he felt right at the plate, and found things he needed to change.
“We wanted to make a big adjustment with posture and making sure you’re just ready to go and there’s not late sudden movements or anything like that. So at the end of the day, what we did was just make it more simple, and approach and all that stuff, that’s there. I feel very good with that. I feel like I’m on these guys, I’m on the pitchers. I’m playing the game within the game, and it was just a matter of fine-tuning and simplifying the swing and being in a good spot to hit. Now that we’re here, I think just take some time, get the timing down, and I’m good to go.”
Having an archive of your swing that goes back for years can apparently help you find it again.
“We just — you can easily just look at video from your years coming up. I can look at video from ‘17, ‘18, ‘19, even swings from ‘19 in the big leagues I can look at and just find the difference, and there was just a clear difference of what was going on and it was for me, I guess you could say I was over-complicating some stuff. But it was right there in front, and it’s simple, and it’s a very easy fix, and I’ve felt very comfortable all offseason, it’s just been go in and hit now, at this point there’s not a thought going through my head, about a swing or anything like that, it’s full-on hitting, versus when you’re struggling, thinking about your swing is kind of — that kind of went through the head at times, and that’s not where you want to be. You want to be thinking about the pitcher and how they’re attacking you, and that’s where I’m at now.
“I feel very happy with the minor adjustments that I’ve made and the spot I’m in.”