Carter Kieboom entered spring training as the favorite to win out the Nationals' starting job at third base. Thirteen games of Grapefruit League play later, he still hasn’t secured the spot.
The Nationals plan to start veteran infielder Starlin Castro at third base Tuesday after he spent a few days taking reps at the position in practice. Kieboom has hit .171 with 11 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances so far this spring, leaving the door open for Washington to shift Castro over from second base and have Kieboom start the regular season in the minors.
“He knows that [he had to compete for a spot] coming in here,” Martinez said of Kieboom on a Zoom call Tuesday. “I’m a Carter fan, everybody knows that. But he still has to go out there and do his job and he knows that. So this doesn’t mean anything…Carter is gonna get an opportunity to play third base so we’ll see how it looks like and this is the last week so we gotta hone in on some things. No decisions have been made yet but we wanna make sure that we take the 26 best guys that we can possibly take.”
Martinez said in February that he wanted Kieboom to play “like the job is his.” After he posted a .556 OPS with one extra-base hit in 33 games for the Nationals last season, the 23-year-old prospect was given an offseason to get healthy and adjust to major-league pitching. He underwent LASIK eye surgery and reported to spring training with a level of confidence that impressed his coaches.
Then the games began and Kieboom’s struggles returned. Now, with a week remaining before the team heads up to D.C., Martinez is giving Castro a taste of game action just in case.
“We’re gonna get him some work over there,” Martinez said. “He’s taken some groundballs the last couple days, I told him to let me know when he was ready. Talked to him yesterday, said he wanted to get over there so we’re gonna take a look at him over there at third base. Doesn’t mean much, Carter, as you know, he’s gotta compete. I want to make sure that we cover all our bases, that we get him over there and see what that looks like.”
If Kieboom isn’t deemed ready to step into a starting role, he will likely be sent down to the minors in order to get everyday at-bats. Depending on how the Nationals use their 26th roster spot, second base could be filled by utility man Josh Harrison, a non-roster invitee such as Hernán Pérez or Jordy Mercer, or 20-year-old infield prospect Luis García.