Carter Kieboom was able to play second base once a week during the Arizona Fall League this year after playing shortstop exclusively in his entire professional career.
Kieboom said at Nationals Winterfest he understands the Nats think very highly of him to fast track him a bit, working at another position and getting a shot to play against the best in the AFL.
“It always feel good when you receive that sort of positive attention,” Kieboom said. “I think as a player that’s kind of what you hope for as an organization: that they believe in you and they trust in you. And I definitely feel like they have that trust in me up to this point. I hope to continue to play well and take care of everything I need to take care of.”
Kieboom said the adjustment from shortstop to second base was as one would expect - the angles and watching for left-handed hitters pulling balls toward him.
“It was different, but it was great,” Kieboom said. “I was glad I got to play and get some live reps out there. To play against talent like that that was out there, it’s definitely a quicker game. I think that’s the closest thing I can get to playing the big leagues at that position. To play second base and get all those reps was definitely beneficial for the future.”
Kieboom said that positioning adjustment, especially how he moves his feet, is critical at second base.
“Maybe just the footwork around the base,” Kieboom said. “Turning double plays and stuff like that, you kind of lose momentum over there at second compared to short, but it was a pretty smooth adjustment. We worked every morning ... and we got to where we wanted to be with it.”
Kieboom said he hadn’t played second base since grade school because that position was usually reserved for the player with the “weakest arm.” But he understands the Nationals have need to add depth at that spot, so he was excited to contribute.
“I did when I was younger,” Kieboom said. “Used to be the littlest guy on the team. Had the weakest arm, so had to play second base. That was about it.”
But he doesn’t have the weakest arm any more, plus he has demonstrated his ability offensively. Kieboom hit well in the AFL (.295/.427/.372) and was rated as the No. 8 prospect in the league. He is also the No. 2 overall Nationals prospect according to MLB.com.
Now that AFL is over, Kieboom is continuing his offseason work in the Atlanta area, as he has done in years past.
“I go to a place in Atlanta. His name is Jay Hood. Played baseball at Georgia Tech. He works with a lot of infielders. (Red Sox infielder) Brandon Phillips, some other guys,” Kieboom said. “He’s pretty good, I trust him with what he does. He’s always willing to work and make you get better.
“I started with him about a year before I was drafted, 2015, 2014. Spencer (Kieboom, his brother) hits with him, (Rockies outfielder) Charlie Blackmon hits with him. There’s quite a few notable guys that work with him and he’s been pretty successful with his work.”
And Carter Kieboom knows these offseason workouts are important because his No. 1 goal for 2019 is to stay healthy.
“To me, I think this year, I think the biggest jump was just to be able to play as many games as I did,” he said. “I was very fortunate to stay healthy all year and play a long successful season.
“I mean personally, ultimately, it’s to stay healthy. I think the best player is a healthy player, and if I can stay on the field as many games as I can, I think that’s when I have my most success. So I think whatever happens throughout the year, I think at the end of the year, I’ll be where I want to be as long as I’m maintaining my health and doing all the things I need to do.”
Now that he has gotten his feet wet at second base, have the Nats told him this is a permanent change?
“I’ll take reps at both (shortstop and second base),” Kieboom said. “I think my focus is going to be more toward second base. ... I haven’t done it in a few years, so I think there’s a little bit more work to be done there in terms of readiness, but I’m going to take a lot of reps at shortstop, still do the same stuff I do every offseason at short and then at the same time add a little more focus to second base.”
It also helps when your older brother is already in the majors and is with the team you are breaking in with, the Nats. Carter said Spencer has been a good source of advice on what it is like in the big leagues.
“Just enjoy it,” Carter Kieboom said of his brother’s words. “Baseball is going to go by quick and you always want to enjoy it. For him, he was in a unique situation in that he wasn’t going to play every day and you knew that. But he also never knew when he was going to be called upon, so the big thing for him was to be ready.
“You never know when that opportunity is going to arise, you are going to make a big play or get the game-winning hit as a pinch-hitter or a catcher. The biggest thing I can take away is just be ready at all times.”
Spencer Kieboom has joked on social media about the brothers being on the same team, and even though he is already in the major leagues, Spencer joked on Twitter that he was “Carter’s brother.” Carter had a response for his brother.
“I think I put something out (saying), ‘I’m his brother,’ ” Carter said with a smile. “He’s paved the way for me. He’s made my life a lot easier and I’ve been able to learn from his success and his mistakes at the same time. He’s been a great big brother in a sense and I’m fortunate to have him, especially in the same organization.”
Spencer, 27, is an engaging player in the clubhouse. He talks with all his teammates and gets everyone involved. Is that how he is at home, too?
“He’s the same way,” Carter said. “He might be even worse. He’s a guy who walks in the room, lights up the room with his personality. He doesn’t shy away from anything. He’s going to be himself from Day One and that’s kind of a unique thing he has about himself.”
Now with Carter’s advancement, there is a chance the Kiebooms could play on the same team in the pros. Being six years younger, it was something that never happened while they were in school.
“We don’t really talk about it,” Carter said. “It’s a possibility that we can be together at some point. It’d be very cool for us to be together. We don’t communicate about it, but it’s always in the back of our minds that this could be our one shot that we actually get to do this. The age difference has always been tough, so this is a great opportunity for us.”