Carter Kieboom has had multiple opportunities over the past few years to claim an every day job with the Washington Nationals, but the 24-year-old, 2016 1st Round pick has had issues offensively (and defensively at times, having moved from shortstop to third) at the major league level, and he’s in Spring Training once again trying to prove that he’s ready to take the next step.
He’s got a super-supportive manager who wants to see him succeed, which probably helps, but he’s also got competition for the third base job this spring, with veteran infielder Maikel Franco, who signed a minor league deal with the club in December, in camp trying to earn a spot on the Nationals’ roster.
“Franco and Carter are going to compete every day for that [third base] job,” Martinez said in his daily press briefing from West Palm Beach, FL on Wednesday afternoon.
“Carter looks great. He really does. He did some things. He tweaked some things on his swing. So I’m looking forward to watching him compete in a game.”
Kieboom’s performance last spring, when he came to Florida as the presumed front runner for the third base job, led the Nationals to option him to Triple-A before he was called back up when a COVID outbreak with the team threw the roster into turmoil, but he did spend a good deal of the season with club’s top minor league affiliate, putting up a .237/.376/.385 line with seven doubles and five home runs in 44 games and 181 plate appearances for the Rochester Red Wings, and a .207/.301/.318 line with six doubles and six home runs over 62 games and 249 PAs in the majors in 2021.
Now it’s time for Kieboom to prove to the Nats’ brass that he’s ready to take the next step.
“I talked to him, I said, ‘Hey, look you’re coming in here to win an every day job at third base, and you can do that.’ It’s totally up to him now, so he understands, he knows what he needs to do and we just want him to go out there and compete,” Martinez explained.
“For him — and honestly for Victor Robles as well, they understand what they need to do to come to Spring Training. We said this before, we’re going to break here with the best 26-27-28 guys, whatever the league decides, to start the season.
“It doesn’t mean that that’s how we’re going to end up, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Asked what he wanted to see from the infielder to know that Kieboom is ready to take the next step, Martinez shared his thinking.
“I just want him to go out there and play baseball. Relax and go play baseball,” he said.
“We talked a lot about him staying in the middle of the field hitting-wise, not trying to do too much, and he can do those things.
“We talked about him getting a little quicker on his feet at third base, and he slimmed down a little bit, he’s got a little stronger, and he looks good.
“I’m watching him work out and he does look a little quicker on his feet. I just want to go watch him play. I don’t want to put any pressure on him. Look, he’s with us. And he’s going to be with us. Hopefully he comes out and has a great spring, and he earns the job, if he doesn’t we’ll have to send him back and he’ll get ready to go and when we deem he’s ready he might get another opportunity here.
“But I want him to see him go out and compete and see how he reacts and see how he does.”
“I think he’s shown flashes offensively of a power stroke, he knows the strike zone very, very well,” GM Mike Rizzo said over the final weekend of the 2021 campaign.
“It’s a matter with him of making adjustments. He started off with six quick home runs, and the league made an adjustment with him, now it’s time for him to make adjustments to the league, and the great ones do it, and the average ones don’t.”
Which side of that divide will Kieboom end up on in the end?
“The jury is still out if he can make those adjustments,” Rizzo said late last season. “But he’s got the skill set and the tools to be a really good player in the big leagues, and again, we just have to have patience with a player who was a high school draft [pick] that takes a little bit longer to develop.”