CLEVELAND -- Standing with his arms folded in a gray T-shirt with CK interlocked into a logo, Carter Kieboom held firm Sunday about his brief and bumpy session with the Nationals this season. He called it “positive” among other redeeming superlatives, and spoke about what he took away, what could come and what is happening now at Triple-a Fresno.
But forget that -- for the moment. Above his head, going predominantly unnoticed, was a nameplate which misspelled his name. K-I-E-BOOM seems easy enough to retain. Probably more so considering Kieboom was playing in his second consecutive MLB Futures Game, which is filled with the league’s top prospects. He’s 21; well-known in these circles. Yet, the nameplate had the wrong name.
Things became worse. Kieboom changed out his gray T-shirt for his game jersey. When he trotted up the dugout steps and turned to the outfield, the same issue which had befallen his nameplate rode on the back of his jersey. K-E-I-BOOM. Wrong. Not great. Frustrating.
Informed something was amiss, he yanked the jersey over his head and inspected it. The jersey then found a home balled into his glove pocket on top of the dugout bench. He did need to retrieve it for a forward-facing team photo in the outfield. He was also prepared to take batting practice without it. Eventually, a quick sew resolved the issue.
No one in Washington is unfamiliar with his name. Kieboom’s spot on the organization’s prospect list received multiple bumps once Juan Soto and Victor Robles graduated to the major-league roster. He’s the organization’s top prospect. Kieboom has pulled together a 1.022 OPS for Triple-A Fresno. He was 1-for-2 Sunday at Progressive Field when hitting second. That all should explain his upper-tier placement on any prospect list.
Those are the known aspects of Kieboom. What’s not known is if his brief major-league stint this year -- .491 OPS, 16 strikeouts in 39 at-bats, trouble in the field -- was harbinger or blip. Kieboom arrived at a crucial time when the Nationals were bumbling through late April and stumbling into May. He homered against Craig Stammen to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth his first night on the field. It was an electric experience and it became fair to wonder: could this kid be the jolt a sagging team needed?
The league caught up quickly. Major-league off-speed pitches have bedeviled more than one prospect, and they chewed up Kieboom, too. He went back to the minors after 11 games with a .128 batting average.
“I learned more my two weeks up there, than I learned in a while,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington on Sunday. “It was nothing but positives to take away from that stint I had up there.”
This was a key point for Kieboom on Sunday: His top takeaway from stopping by the major leagues was the overall process of being removed from the incubator and thrown into a cauldron of learning. He felt he was too aggressive at times in the field, saying he learned about how often to “play downhill” in the middle of the diamond at that level. He picked up lessons on different reads at shortstop. The plate failure weighed less on his mind (though Kieboom would probably take issue with the term “weighed”).
“What happened up there wasn’t any correlation to who I am as a player,” Kieboom said. “I’m way better than what I showed. But, my stint up there was unbelievable. What I learned at the age of 21 up there in two weeks, got exposed to, and all the different situations was phenomenal for me. It plays a huge part in my game now. It’s a whole other level of confidence to have that exposure under my belt now.”
Kieboom has started 27 games at second base and 37 games at shortstop in Fresno. He feels more settled in to second base after extensive work there. Kieboom’s future in Washington is probably at second, with a slight chance of first or third. Kieboom also feels more comfortable in Fresno. Attendance is strong, he likes the park, the weather is nice.
He, of course, does not want to stay there any longer than necessary. He told Nationals staffers two things when sent down: “Thank you” and “I’ll be back.” It’s possible in September or sooner if another injury opens a spot like Trea Turner’s broken finger did the first time. That is assuming he is not traded -- which is unlikely, yet not out of the question -- before the July 31 deadline. Kieboom said he didn’t know July 31 was the trade deadline; he doesn’t think about those situations. “Not at all.”
Whenever he is back, Kieboom will receive a chance to start yanking some of his initial numbers upward. He expects to do so, with an accurate jersey on his back.
“Failure’s a part of the game,” Kieboom said. “Sometimes you fail more than you’d like. It’s just a matter of sticking with what you know, continuing to play your game and good things will happen.
“I took all positives from the stint up there. Nothing negative.”
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