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Washington Nationals’ Carter Kieboom needs to remain confident ... amidst Spring Training drama...

Carter Kieboom is fighting for the third base role in the big leagues again this spring. Will he end up playing third base on Opening Day?

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Carter Kieboom went 0 for 1 with a strikeout against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday in Jupiter, FL.

In 14 games this spring, the 23-year-old infielder was 6 for 36 (.167/.211/.278) with a triple, two walks, and 12 strikeouts after Tuesday’s game.

Kieboom’s continued offensive issues follow an impressive rise through the minors, in which he put up a .287/.378/.469 line in four seasons and 329 games.

But in two relatively brief stints so far in the majors, the 2016 1st Round pick has struggled, so on Tuesday afternoon, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez, in preparing for all possible scenarios, put Starlin Castro at third base for the first time this spring, a few days after he had told reporters neither Castro or Nats’ prospect Luis García were working out at the hot corner this spring.

Did he talk to Kieboom before making the decision to get Castro some work at third base?

“We’ll talk to him, but these guys understand it’s about competition and competing,” Martinez said.

“He’s got to come and compete. This doesn’t change anything with him, it doesn’t change the way I feel about him. I’ve always said that he’s a big part of our future here. So he understands that. He’s just got to go out there and compete. I just want him to go out there and relax, compete and have fun. He has been swinging the bat a little bit better, so we just got to — this last week, like I said, I just want to make sure that we’re covering all our bases here, and Starlin does have an opportunity to play some third base.”

Asked if there was something Kieboom could do over the last week to calm any nerves in the front office in D.C. (or West Palm Beach right now), Martinez said it could turn around any time at the plate.

“When it comes to hitting, you can find one or two things that will click right away and next thing you know you’re squaring balls up,” he explained.

But right now, he’s not seeing that.

“When he’s going well, he’s got gap-to-gap power,” Martinez said. “Which means that — I look at Carter where — I think Carter is a 40 doubles guy, who could hit 15-20 home runs, without putting numbers on him — but I think that’s the kind of player that you’ll see out of Carter. He squares balls up consistently, and that’s what I’m looking for.

“Even, like I said, this is a result-driven game, but I’m looking for guys to hit the ball hard consistently. Taking their walks, which he does.

“But putting the meat of the bat on the ball consistently. I haven’t seen that yet here.

“I know he can do it, I’ve seen it. He’s done it every year in the minor leagues. We’re waiting for that to happen here. When that happens, I think the kid is going to take off.”

What’s off right now for Kieboom, who finished 2020’s 60-game campaign at .202/.344/.212 in 33 games, over which he had one extra base hit (a double), 17 walks, and 33 Ks in 122 PAs.

“A little bit has to do with mechanics, yeah,” Martinez said. “He tried to revamp his swing a little bit. Talked to K-Long [hitting coach Kevin Long]. The good news is he drove a couple balls to right field now. He drove a deep fly ball to center field, hit it well, and any given day I thought that could have been a home run without the wind. So, we’ll see where it goes here in the next week, but like I said, he is swinging the bat a little bit better. The big thing for us is just to watch him continue to play third base, and play consistent third base over there.

“Making good throws, getting his feet in a position to field every ball. We’ll watch all those things this week very carefully like we have been, and we’ll go from there.”

Kieboom made a nice barehanded play on a weak roller toward third base after taking over for Castro late in Tuesday’s game, after a hamstring tweak took the veteran out of the mix.

His manager said it was a good sign that Kieboom hasn’t let the drama playing out in WPB affect his concentration in the field.

“I’m happy that he came in and played the way he played,” Martinez said. “He made a few nice plays, so that’s good to see, but like I said before, Carter just needs to worry about getting himself ready for the season, that’s what I want him to focus on, and continue to gain confidence over there, and every time he’s over there he seems to be doing that.”