Carter Kieboom was part of the reason the Washington Nationals allowed third baseman Anthony Rendon to depart in free agency following the 2019 World Series championship.
It wasn’t based on anything Kieboom had accomplished at the major league level; not yet, at least. He hadn’t hit .319 with 44 doubles like Rendon did in 2019, before the 30-year-old joined the Los Angeles Angels. But the Nationals believed Kieboom — the team’s top-ranked prospect — could make the transition to third base and adapt to life in the big leagues seamlessly enough to patch over Rendon’s departure.
The experiment didn’t work, though. Washington optioned Kieboom to its alternate training site in Fredericksburg midway through the shortened 2020 season.
But heading into the 2021 campaign, there’s renewed hope — at least from an outward projection — that Kieboom will find his footing at the major league level. As the Nationals look to fill gaps at first base and right field this offseason, manager Dave Martinez was adamant third base shouldn’t be added to that list of needs.
“I talked to him, and I told him, “Hey, you’re our future third baseman, and the future is now. So you’ve got to come to spring training, be ready to go and the job is yours, but you’ve got to earn it,’” Martinez said last week. “He knows that. Moving forward, hopefully he comes to spring training ready to go.”
In 44 games across two seasons with Washington, Kieboom has hit .181 with a .541 on-base plus slugging percentage — far off from his marks at the Triple-A level in 2019, when he held a .303 batting average and crushed 16 homers.
The scuffles at the plate led to his demotion in August, one day after Kieboom twice swung at the first of at-bats, twice leading to inning-ending double plays.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Luis Garcia impressed in his rookie season, a surprise contributor who finished with a .276 batting average in 40 games. He and Kieboom could be in line for roles in 2021 again. When asked, general manager Mike Rizzo said they’d both have an opportunity to show their value in spring training. But improvement is needed, too.
“They have to show a year more of experience,” Rizzo said. “I think that was their big flaw — as it is with many, many rookies — is that you’re a rookie. And you can’t get experience in the big leagues other than playing in the big leagues.”
Kieboom, still just 23, may need continued game time to fit into the lineup in Washington. It’s not a done deal, though.
The Athletic reported the Nationals may be open to trading Kieboom, and he could be a logical piece in a deal for Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez — a power hitter who clubbed 49 longballs in 2019. According to MLB Network, Washington and Cincinnati have discussed a trade, although nothing is imminent.
As the Nationals’ playoff window appears to be closing — with Max Scherzer and Trea Turner potentially departing after the 2021 and 2022 seasons, respectively — Suarez would offer a more proven option at the position, befitting of a win-now franchise. The 29-year-old launched 15 homers in the shortened 2020 campaign, building off four consecutive seasons with at least 21 dingers.
But from the outside, Martinez has expressed belief in Kieboom as the long-term plan at third base, regardless of his production so far at the major league level. What he says and what Washington might do are two different things, though.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this kid,” Martinez said. “I think he’s going to be fine. But he’s got to believe that in himself, he’s got to go out there, he’s got to take charge, and he’s got to want the job. I’m behind him 100 percent.”
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