WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For the first time in four years, Carter Kieboom didn’t report to spring training as the Nationals’ leading candidate to start at third base on Opening Day. This time, Kieboom is just trying to show he’s healthy again after missing the entire 2022 season following Tommy John surgery.
That process continues, with Kieboom not yet fully recovered from the elbow ligament replacement procedure most commonly associated with pitchers, not infielders.
He has been making throws from his position at third base to first and second bases, but they’ve all been routine, overhand throws. He has yet to advance to sidearm throws while charging in on a ball, or the tougher overhand throw required after fielding a ball backhanded down the line.
Because of all that, it doesn’t appear Kieboom will be ready to play in games at the start of the Grapefruit League season, which begins Feb. 25. When he does debut, he’ll likely serve as designated hitter at the outset, delaying his debut in the field until later in camp.
“We’re going to see how his progression goes,” manager Davey Martinez said. “There may be some days when we get him into a game when we can, probably as DH just to get his at-bats. But in time we’ll get him back out there to third base. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but he’s definitely well on his way to getting back on the field really soon.”
The Nationals notably had plans to make Kieboom their everyday third baseman in 2020 after Anthony Rendon departed for Anaheim. But the 2016 first-round pick wound up splitting time that season with veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera, then lost the job in spring 2021 to Starlin Castro, then watched Maikel Franco take over when he injured his elbow last spring.
This winter, the Nats went out and signed free agent Jeimer Candelario to start at third base, leaving Kieboom on the outside looking in. Even once healthy again, he may have trouble cracking the major league roster.
* Of the 37 pitchers officially listed on the Nationals’ spring training roster, only three are not full participants to begin camp. One is Stephen Strasburg, who we learned Wednesday was shut down again after experiencing more nerve issues following a bullpen session a couple weeks ago. The second is Tanner Rainey, who won’t be ready to return from Tommy John surgery until mid-to-late summer.
The third is Jackson Tetreault, who finished last season on the 60-day injured list with a fractured right scapula and is still completing his rehab program.
Tetreault, who made his major league debut in June and then strung together two impressive starts against the Phillies and Rangers before getting hurt, has been throwing off flat ground. Martinez said he’s getting closer to throwing off a mound for the first time.
“It was a weird injury; I never heard of anybody breaking a scapula,” the manager said. “He said it was difficult, but he feels great. Now the next thing is to get him back on the mound and start throwing bullpens.”
* Perhaps the most notable, upper-level prospect in the Nationals system who didn’t get an invitation to big league camp was Robert Hassell III, the talented outfielder acquired from the Padres in last summer’s Juan Soto trade. Hassell, who figures to open the season at Double-A Harrisburg, could potentially make his major league debut later this year.
The organization, though, didn’t want to throw him to the wolves in big league camp yet, particularly after he needed surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right wrist only a couple of days into the Arizona Fall League season.
Hassell is fully recovered from the surgery and will be playing Opening Day in the minors. He also should still get a few opportunities to appear in big league games this spring as a daily call-up from minor league camp.
“What I’d like to do is, once he gets going, bring him up here and play him up here (as a daily call-up), just so we can see him,” Martinez said. “But he’s definitely one of the guys in the future that can help us in the outfield.
“I watched him in the early camp, and he’s swinging the bat well. The ball comes off his bat, especially to left-center field. He stays on the ball really well. And man, he can play some defense.”
* MASN announced it will televise four exhibition games this spring, beginning with the Nationals’ March 11 game against the Mets. Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen also are slated to call the March 18 game against the Marlins, the March 24 game against the Cardinals, all in West Palm Beach. The crew’s final pre-Opening Day broadcast will come March 28, when the Nats host the Yankees in a final exhibition at Nationals Park.