“It was a different feeling for Carter this year because he knew the job was his for the take,” Gingrich said. “He made a couple of adjustments in the offseason on his own, trying to make some moves that he does smaller. They didn’t really transform how he was expecting them to in the games, along with timing - (that) is always an issue. So he started off a little bit rough at the plate and then we kind of found a happy median of what he was trying to do and what he had had success with in the past.
“In the last 10 days, he started feel more like himself. His timing was getting better at the plate. He started to relax and we were just starting to see the Carter that we all know that (fans) may not know yet.”
Kieboom hit .111 in the five games played in February, then .286 with two doubles and two RBIs in March. The run mirrored how consistent he was at Triple-A Fresno following his 11-game debut with the Nats last year. The 22-year-old finished up slashing .303/.409/.493 for the Grizzlies, with 24 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 79 RBIs over 109 games. The Marietta, Ga., native is ranked No. 21 in the MLBPipeline.com top 100 prospects for 2020.
Gingrich said Kieboom was scorching at the plate during spring workouts last year. Then the 6-foot-2, 190-lb. infielder got his shot early with the Nats, and it did not go as well offensively as he had hoped it would - just 5-for-39 with two homers and two RBIs and 16 strikeouts.
“He got off to a blistering start last year,” Gingrich said. “Even in spring, he doesn’t usually come into spring that hot right away, and he was hot last year in spring (.279/.353/.558). He rolled that into the start at Fresno and then he got called up. It was kind of a whirlwind for him, it went really fast. And then when he got sent back down, he was in the process of (learning) how to handle going up, being sent down. A couple of weeks later, he got back into a groove again. It was just kind of a fast year for him, how everything transpired into where he got to and then where he ended up being back. It was a good year for him offensively-wise.”
Gingrich focused this year on getting Kieboom to go after good pitches as soon as possible. It was something the coaching staff pinpointed as an issue in his first chance with the Nats last season.
“We look to get him more aggressive early in counts,” Gingrich said. “He takes a ton of good pitches to hit. That was a little bit of our talk, was to make sure that he is ready to go as soon as he gets in the box. I think that’s what happened a lot when he got to the big leagues, was he took pitches early in the count and then he was behind in counts. And being behind in the count in the big leagues makes it really difficult to hit.”
Now Kieboom and the Nats wait for the chance to see how these adjustments will pay dividends in 2020 (or 2021). He has all the tools to be a solid major league ballplayer and the vacancy at third base has arrived.
The biggest storyline in the offseason for the Nats was Anthony Rendon’s departure. It is still the question mark going into the season. Gingrich believes Kieboom made the proper adjustments in the last few weeks of spring training to hit the ground running in the big leagues when games resume. Because he only had 11 games to show what he could do in the majors last season, Gingrich is excited for Nats fans to finally get to see what Kieboom can do for a full season on South Capitol Street.
“When Carter is locked in, he’s on the attack,” Gingrich said. “A lot last year when he was in the big leagues, he was on the defensive side, kind of similar to how he started in spring training this year. He’s not the same player when he is on the defensive side. He’s a much better player when he is aggressive.”