“I understand. I get it,” Carter Kieboom told reporters after learning that he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster for 2021 after struggling at the plate in Grapefruit League action.
Kieboom started the spring as the presumptive third baseman in the nation’s capital, but his continued struggles at the plate, after a rough run in a short stint in 2019, and during the 60 game season in ‘20, led the Nationals to decide he needed more time developing.
“We have to win and I want our team to win,” Kieboom said, “and you know what, I was not in the position to, I don’t think give ourselves at that moment, at this moment in time, give ourselves the best opportunity to win the games if — I need to go down and get my swing right. I know I’m a guy that can help this team win a lot of ballgames. But right now, I definitely still have some things that I want to work on and get to that point where it’s an everyday thing for me again, and it’s in there. I know it’s in there, and I feel it.”
Kieboom ended up on the Opening Day roster with the club’s COVID crisis taking a number of players out of action, but he appeared in just two games, then went to Fredericksburg to work at the Nationals’ Alternate Training site.
Earlier this week, Kieboom and other players in the system were assigned to the Nationals’ minor league affiliates for the start of the 2021 MiLB season. Kieboom ended up at Triple-A Rochester in upstate New York.
In Triple-A Fresno last season, the 22-year-old infielder (who turned 23 last September), put up a .303/.409/.493 line with 24 doubles and 16 home runs over 109 games and 494 plate appearances (versus a .202/.344/.212 line and one double in 33 G and 122 PAs in the majors last season).
This season, Kieboom and the rest of the Nationals’ Triple-A players are in Rochester, a new affiliate for the club which is approximately 2,412 miles closer than Fresno, CA.
“Obviously with Rochester, the front office there has been outstanding so far,” Assistant GM, Player Development, Mark Scialabba told reporters earlier this week. “Very professional and first-class in everything they’ve done for us so far, so we’re really excited to partner with them. Obviously it improves our geography and the process of sending people there and the proximity to D.C.”
Scialabba pointed to Kieboom (who’s going to continue playing third) and infielder Luis García, who’s going to play shortstop (while moving around the field) as two players to watch for Red Wings fans who aren’t familiar with the Nationals’ system after years as a Minnesota Twins’ affiliate for Rochester.
Talking about Kieboom, specifically, Scialabba discussed what the organization has him working on since we last saw the infielder.
“Carter is someone that has the ability to barrel up the baseball and hit with power, and he’s just got to get into his swing with his legs more and get into a position where he’s creating a more consistent bat path,” Scialabba explained. “He’s working on that right now.”
And mentally, how has Kieboom handled the disappointment early in his big league career, and again this spring?
“I think he’s in a good place,” Scialabba said.
“He has people that he trusts in the organization — from a coaching standpoint, and I think he’s learning how to deal with making adjustments and dealing with adversity when things aren’t going his way.
“He’s got to learn how to adapt. He works extremely hard. He’s confident in himself. I think he just needs to — getting out there and playing a normal schedule, getting four or five at bats every day, that’s going to help all these guys obviously. But it’s really going to help him because then he’s going to be able to see hopefully the positive results, and deal with the negative like he always has, but I think he’s going to have the ability just to go out there and deal with the ups and downs of a normal season and not worry about potential expectations more so than actually playing. I think that’s what this guy has got to do. You start playing and get in a groove and I think he’s going to be fine and our coaches have done an outstanding job with him up there, and it started back in Spring Training when he was told he wasn’t making the team, I think that’s when a light came on with having to understand that there’s a process here.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but he’s committed to it ... and he’s got to have trust in your coaches, trust in yourself, and your teammates, that it’s going to get better, so we still believe in him and I think he does too, believes in himself.”
Kieboom went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts in his 2021 Triple-A debut last night.