One of the benefits of a rebuilding team is the ability to play young players with significantly less pressure to win ball games. Partly because of that, we’re finally seeing the flashes of potential from Carter Kieboom that we never really saw in 2019 or 2020.
In 373 minor league games, Kieboom hit .281 with an OPS of .838. We know he can hit at the minor league level, and now is the time for him to take this next step at the MLB level. He doesn’t need to be Anthony Rendon. He will never be Anthony Rendon or Trea Turner.
In 2019, he was called up in late April after a slew of injuries took out Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Anthony Rendon. In 2 of his first 3 MLB games with the Nationals, he homered, raising the expectations of the top prospect even higher. After those first three games, he’d appear in just eight more in 2019, with only two more hits before being sent back down to AAA.
In both 2020 and 2021, he entered Spring Training as the expected third baseman, only to fumble it away with atrocious displays both in the batter’s box and on defense. Nats Twitter was vilifying him and labeling him a colossal bust. Before this season, he was a career .182 hitter in 165 plate appearances.
Fast forward to July 31st. The Nationals trade away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Kyle Schwarber, Brad Hand, Jon Lester, and Daniel Hudson. The win-now mentality is gone and there are voids all around the diamond waiting to be filled. Up comes Carter Kieboom with perhaps his final opportunity to show improvement.
While he’s still somewhat around the average replacement player, he’s shown massive improvement. The 24-year-old is hitting .246 with 6 home runs and 19 RBIs in 42 games. That’s not great, but it’s a big step up from hitting .182. He’s not a good defensive third baseman, but he’s not airmailing the ball every other play like he was in Spring Training over the last few years.
The walk off hit versus the Mets this past Monday was a major step forward for the youngster. As his confidence and experience grows, combined with the lack of win-now pressure, Carter Kieboom can still develop into a serviceable third baseman. It’s even possible he can still become that really good hitter. As the Nats continue to rebuild, all eyes will be on Carter Kieboom and his progress. Let’s hope he continues to develop.