In some regards, the Washington Nationals were in an interesting position. They’re good enough to be considered competitive for a playoff spot — and perhaps even the division — but they aren’t so good that they’re a lock to make it to either of those places. While they don’t have the prospect depth that other organizations have, they still have players they want to see find themselves on the field so they can help the team. Enter: Carter Kieboom.
Everybody wants to see Kieboom succeed; everybody wants to see him reach his potential. He’s only 23, so there’s definitely no reason to write him off yet, but I think we thought this year was going to be different.
Granted, we haven’t made it to the regular season yet, but for a team poised to compete, a struggling young third baseman wasn’t a very attractive option — particularly when there were veterans playing well around him.
The Athletic’s Maria Torres published an article outlining the Nats’ Opening Day roster.
It’s wasn’t surprising to see that Kieboom listed as one of the recipients of a roster spot, but Torres also added:
“One thing to watch for: If the Nationals are able to make room on the roster, they may give third base to [Starlin] Castro, slot in Josh Harrison as the starting second baseman and add non-roster invitee Hernán Pérez to the bench.”
That appears to be exactly what the Nationals have done. Kieboom was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Saturday afternoon, and Pérez and infielder Jordy Mercer had their contracts purchased after they signed minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training with the club.
Coming into spring camp, many thought Kieboom was the heir apparent for the everyday third base role.
Now, with an awful spring showing, Kieboom won’t be the starter come April 1st.
Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this month that though no decisions were made at that point, “we want to make sure that we take the 26 best guys that we could possibly take.”
During this spring, Kieboom has hit .133/.204/.222 with no home runs and only one RBI. He’s also walked four times compared to his 16 strikeouts.
It doesn’t appear to be getting any better, either. Meanwhile, Castro is playing really well this spring: .303/.343/.515 with a homer and five RBIs.
Josh Harrison, who’s likely going to start at second or third, depending on what they do with Castro, is 13 for 31 (.419/.471/.677) this spring after a two-hit game on Friday night.
My colleague Blake Finney presented the case regarding Kieboom in a recently published article, noting that the best version of the ‘21 Nats needs Kieboom at third. The trouble is: Is he ready? He might be ready at some point during the year, but at this juncture, it appears Castro gives the Nationals the best chance to win games — a feat that will be difficult this year in the National League East.
If there’s hope to be had, though, it can be found in FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections: Those metrics have Kieboom contributing 1.5 fWAR over 128 games played, even if those potential numbers are informed more by defensive ability than offensive.
With projected potential values of 93 in the wRC+ metric, for example, people may give pause concerning the roadmap for Kieboom in the imminent future.
While we all wanted to see a revamped and hungry Kieboom in 2021, it looks like it will be Castro who gets the job at third — and for good reason. The Nationals entered camp with the intention of placing Kieboom as the starting third baseman, it seemed — but only if he could earn it.
A rough spring apparently has the club thinking he needs more time at Triple-A before he’s back up in the majors.