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Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom unfazed by rough big-league stint

Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom unfazed by rough big-league stint

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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Yankees reportedly pulled out all the stops in their meeting with Stephen Strasburg

Yankees reportedly pulled out all the stops in their meeting with Stephen Strasburg

When Stephen Strasburg met with the Yankees this week, they reportedly brought in a five-time World Series champion to talk to the Nationals' ace. 

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Strasburg met with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, manager Aaron Boone, pitching coach Marty Blake and Yankee legend Andy Pettite. 

Pettite also sat in on New York's meeting with free-agent ace Gerrit Cole as a way to make both pitchers comfortable and help persuade one or both to sign with the Yankees per Buster Olney.

Pettite was a member of the Yankees from 1995-2003 before he signed with the Astros in free agency. After three years in Houston, Pettite returned to the Yankees in 2007 and pitched the remainder of his career in the Bronx. 

The lefty finished with 256 career wins, 2,448 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.85 over 3,316 innings pitched. 

Washington is still considered the favorite to re-sign Strasburg, but their competition is stiff. The Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers have all had rumored interest in the World Series MVP. 

The winter meetings begin on Sunday and Strasburg reportedly could re-sign with the Nationals at the start or before the meetings take place. 

Only time will tell. 

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If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

The common thinking around the major leagues is that the Nationals are more likely to retain free agent starter Stephen Strasburg than third baseman Anthony Rendon.

It’s not very surprising, given President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo’s track record of prioritizing starting pitching when building a roster. Couple that with Strasburg’s decorated tenure in Washington that includes a rise as one of the most decorated prospects of all time as well as World Series MVP honors, and it’s easy to see why the team would want him back.

But while losing Strasburg from the rotation would be a massive loss, the team has two other starters in Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin who received Cy Young votes last season. Rendon, meanwhile, finished third in the NL MVP race after hitting .319 with 34 home runs and a league-best 126 runs batted in. Outside of 21-year-old wunderkind Juan Soto, there’s no one on the Nationals’ roster who’s ever come close to matching that production.

Rendon is rumored to be interested in a short-term, higher-salary deal, which could give the luxury-tax-weary Nationals pause about retaining him. As much as they may want him back, an average annual value in the mid-to-upper $30 million range would make it difficult for the Nationals to stay under the threshold moving forward.

If Rizzo and Co. deem Rendon to be too expensive, they’ll likely pivot to former Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 2015 AL MVP was the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2019 after posting a .900 OPS with 37 homers and 100 walks in 155 games. USA TODAY reported Wednesday that Donaldson is “being heavily pursued” by Washington, only adding credence to the notion that Rendon lands elsewhere.

Yet the Nationals are far from the only suitors for Donaldson, who’s projected by FanGraphs to sign a three-year deal. The Braves, Dodgers, Twins, Rangers and Phillies are all reportedly interested in the three-time All-Star. That could be problematic for Washington, as the talent available at the hot corner takes a steep dive after the Bringer of Rain.

Rendon and Donaldson finished the 2019 season with 7.0 and 4.9 fWAR, respectively. Of the 22 other free-agent third basemen, none even finished with a mark above 3.0. The best alternative options? Eric Sogard (2.6), Todd Frazier (1.9), Asdrubal Cabrera (1.9), Brock Holt (1.3) and Starlin Castro (1.3).

Sogard, Holt and Castro aren’t natural third basemen, and they’ve never finished a full season with an OPS above .800. Frazier’s strikeout tendencies don’t fit the Nationals’ M.O. and Cabrera was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers midway through last season before getting hot for Washington down the stretch—not to mention that both of them will be 34 on Opening Day.

On the trade market, the price tags for Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado—if they’re traded at all—would be well out of the Nationals’ comfort zone. Ditto for Miguel Andujar. The Oakland Athletics’ Marcus Semien would be an intriguing target after he posted a career year in 2019 and finished third in AL MVP voting. But he was a league-average hitter at best in his six seasons prior and only has a little more than 400 career innings under his belt at third.

It’s murky territory, one the Nationals haven’t faced at third base at all since they moved to D.C. Ryan Zimmerman was their full-time starter at third by the beginning of the 2006 season and he remained there until Rendon took over for good in 2014. In fact, the Nationals’ third basemen have combined for an .815 OPS since the start of the ’05 season. Only the Chicago Cubs (.823) and Colorado Rockies (.827) have received better production at the position over that span.

Meanwhile, third base has developed into one of the deepest offensive positions in the sport. Rendon, Donaldson, Bryant, Arenado, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman have all finished top five in MVP voting over the last four seasons. Last year, only right fielders (.796 OPS) combined to post a higher OPS than third basemen (.789).

Third base has never been a significant question mark for the Nationals, but if they don’t go all-in for Rendon or Donaldson—or both sluggers sign elsewhere anyway—Washington is going to be hard-pressed to replace that production another way.

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