Nationals still have confidence in Kieboom

2020 was not the breakout season Carter Kieboom might have hoped for, but that does not mean that the Nationals third baseman did not make some positive strides.

Kieboom hit .202 in 99 at-bats this past season, with one double and nine RBIs. The 23-year-old played in 33 games, three times more than he played in back in 2019. He showed a penchant for improved patience, seeing 4.39 pitchers per at-bat. In 2019, he saw only 3.91 pitches per time up. The big statistic that jumped out was his batting average for balls in play (BABIP), which doubled, going from .143 in 2019 to .299. His on-base percentage moved up from .209 in 2019 to .344 in 2020.

Thumbnail image for Kieboom-C-Swings-Blue-Sidebar.jpgIt was not smooth sailing, of course. The Nats decided on Aug. 26 that the young third baseman could use more time working on his approach and swing back at the alternate training site. After he returned to the Nats on Sept. 5, Kieboom's batting average ticked up slightly, from .146 to .204.

A lot of talk in the offseason has centered around the possibility of the Nats trading for All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant, assuming the club had somehow lost confidence in their top prospect from 2019. General manager Mike Rizzo, appearing on "The Sports Junkies" radio show Monday morning on 106.7 The Fan said that is certainly not the case.

"We have great faith in (Kieboom)," Rizzo said. "We have high expectations for (him). We felt his game came a long way in 2019 and 2020, learning a new position at the major league level. We've got high hopes for him. We think he's going to be a great player for us. You look at the very small sample size early in his career, Anthony Rendon went through the same thing.

"Several players go through the same thing in their career. If you start judging people by 100 or 200 major league at-bats when they are starting to play a new position in the league, you'd be in trouble. We are certainly not going to do that. We've got all the confidence in the world in him and we think he is going to be a hell of a player."

Rendon hit .200 in his first six games in 2013, but bounced back to hit .330 in June. In July, Rendon hit .187, then .272 in August and .286 in September that season. Of course, it does put a bit of undue pressure on Kieboom to assume he'll duplicate Rendon's rise. As Rizzo points out, it is better to let Kieboom play a full season and accrue hundreds of at-bats instead of passing judgment on his ability after 44 major league games. Kieboom did not reach the level at the plate he might have hoped for, based on average, but the 121 plate appearances were crucial for his professional experience going forward.

In the field, Kieboom committed three errors on 88 chances, for a fielding percentage of .966. The league average at the position in 2020 was .953, so that is a promising result. And the eye test showed Kieboom making good decisions on where to throw the ball and when to eat it. Kieboom also did a nice job getting to balls in front of him and said he learned a lot from advice and practice with veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera before and after games.

All this in-game knowledge in the batter's box, and with a glove, will benefit Kieboom as he gets ready for next season. Despite all that went wrong in the shortened season for the Nats, those 33 games for should pay dividends for Kieboom in 2021 as he gets more chances in the field, hopefully for a full 162-game campaign.

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