What changed for Carter Kieboom on Thursday? Nothing.
The Nationals decided they wanted a veteran to assure second base was solidified in 2019. That led to a one-year, $9 million deal with Brian Dozier. He’s added to the previously situated platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick. Washington’s modest investment at the position provides depth and options. It also doesn’t slow Kieboom’s expected ascent.
It’s possible Kieboom heard the news while in Atlanta and working with former player Jay Hood, who has turned himself into something of a player development coach after a brief career in baseball’s lower levels at the turn of the century. Kieboom began working with Hood in 2015 before he was selected 28th overall by Washington in the 2016 MLB draft. His work this winter with Hood took on a new requirement: improve at second base.
That position, for now, is how Kieboom will get to the major leagues. Trea Turner is under team control the next four years. Barring injury or an unexpected and major downturn, he remains the team’s shortstop during that time. Which is why Kieboom’s slide to second base has begun.
He played 118 minor league games last season across Single- and Double-A. None were at second base, an idea that made little sense then and less so now. So, Kieboom is trying to catch up. He operated at second in nine of his 21 Arizona Fall League games following the season. That’s his first pro work at the spot.
“It was different, but it was great,” Kieboom said at Nationals Winterfest in early December. “I was glad I got to play. Got some live reps out there. To play against talent like that out there, it's definitely a quicker game. I think that's the closest thing I can get to playing in the big leagues at that position. To play second base and get all those reps is definitely beneficial for the future.”
Kieboom’s past experience at second is rooted in his previous lack of stature. He’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds now. He was the runt in the past.
“I used to be the littlest guy on the team -- had the weakest arm so you had to play second base,” Kieboom said. “That was about it for that.”
His arm strength is more than fine for the spot now. Which makes the focus his ability to pivot in the middle of the field when working from the right side. Coming across the bag from shortstop provides momentum. That’s stalled when moving the other way, which produces an adjustment and a danger.
“The pivot is the biggest challenge any second baseman has to learn,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “The pivot from other infielders to him at the base and from him to the shortstop at second base. It’s a delicate position to play and one you can get hurt in if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Kieboom’s main tutor in Arizona was Luis Ordaz, a former major leaguer who doubles as the Potomac hitting coach. Kieboom and Ordaz worked every morning on the adjustment.
That work will extend to spring training, then wherever Kieboom begins the season, whether it’s in Double-A Harrisburg or out west at Triple-A Fresno. The Nationals need to determine if they want Kieboom up a level and bouncing around the Pacific Coast League or much closer in Harrisburg. He made 273 plate appearances in Double-A last season. He could very well open there again.
When he looks back at 2018, Kieboom will see a year he played in the Futures Game, the organization moved him up a level and invited him to its offseason celebration with fans.
“It always feel good when you receive that sort of positive attention,” Kieboom said. “I think as a player, that's what you hope for in an organization that they believe in you and trust in you. I definitely feel like they have that trust in me up to this point. I hope to just continue to play well and take care of everything I need to take care of.”
When he looks forward, Kieboom will see a coming year intent on a position shift, further opportunity to move up and a road that remained clear during offseason moves. Dozier is the stopgap. Kieboom remains on track.
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