Did Kieboom show enough to merit No. 2 catching job in 2019?

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Spencer Kieboom, who was supposed to be in D.C. short-term but wound up sticking around most of the season.

PLAYER REVIEW: SPENCER KIEBOOM

Age on opening day 2019: 28

How acquired: Fifth-round pick, 2012 draft

MLB service time: 149 days

2018 salary: $545,000

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2021, free agent in 2024

2018 stats: 52 G, 143 PA, 125 AB, 16 R, 29 H, 5 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 16 BB, 28 SO, .232 AVG, .322 OBP, .320 SLG, .642 OPS, 0 DRS, 0.6 fWAR, 0.4 bWAR

Quotable: “He’s controlled the running game really well. He’s been calling some good games, and he’s really learned a lot. He’s learned and matured over the course of the year. He’s done well.” - Davey Martinez

2018 analysis: Kieboom had played in the big leagues before, but only for one week at the end of the 2016 season and only because of Wilson Ramos’ devastating ACL tear just before the Nationals were set to open the playoffs. And with Matt Wieters, Jose Lobaton (in 2017), Miguel Montero (to begin 2018) and Pedro Severino all ahead of him on the depth chart, the 27-year-old didn’t figure to have much chance of making it back.

But then Montero’s D.C. tenure lasted only a couple of weeks and Wieters suffered a major hamstring injury in mid-May, so Kieboom found himself summoned to the majors again, now as Severino’s backup. And after Severino struggled mightily during the first prolonged opportunity to start in his career, Kieboom actually was the one who stuck around once Wieters returned from the DL in July.

Kieboom-Blue-Tags-Frazier-sidebar.jpgOrganization officials had always liked Kieboom’s work behind the plate, and though admittedly older than most rookies, he showed why over the course of the season. Pitchers came to trust his game-calling skills and also appreciated his quick trigger and strong arm on throws to second base.

At the plate, Kieboom didn’t do much for much of the season. On Sept. 2, his batting average stood at .181, his on-base percentage at .271, his slugging percentage at a paltry .234. But then things finally began to click. Kieboom got 11 starts over the season’s final four weeks, and he had multiple hits in four of those games. He hit the first two homers of his career and closed out the season with a nice .387/.472/.581 stretch.

2019 outlook: The Nationals are facing all kinds of catching questions heading into the winter, and Kieboom is one of those questions. He’s not going to be considered for No. 1 duties, but the Nats have to decide if they believe he is a legitimate option for the No. 2 job all season long.

Given his strong defensive skills, Kieboom does have the profile of a big league backup catcher - if he can just hold his own at the plate. Perhaps that September surge was evidence he has it in him, though it’s hardly a significant sample size.

In the end, Kieboom’s future role may be tied directly to what the Nats end up doing in their pursuit of a No. 1 catcher. If they’re able to acquire a frontline guy who can be penciled in for 120 starts (Yasmani Grandal, J.T. Realmuto) they’re probably more inclined to stick with Kieboom as the backup. If, however, they end up with a second-tier catcher who needs to share the workload, they may feel like they need a bigger offensive threat as the No. 2 backstop.

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