With the trade deadline having passed and Starlin Castro’s future with the Nationals over, it seemed like General Manager Mike Rizzo would trot out former top prospect Carter Kieboom out as the everyday third baseman. Typically, promoting a great minor league performer like Kieboom, who had a .286/.400/.464 across two seasons of Triple-A, would be met with optimism. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and many fans groaned because of Kieboom’s lackluster performance at the big-league level. In his first two seasons in the majors, Kieboom tallied 25 hits in 165 plate appearances and drew only 21 walks. His lack of hits was made worse because of the lack of power, with only three hits leading to extra bases.
Kieboom was a below-average hitter and lacked a glove to make up for his lack of production at the plate. Pair that with the high hopes of contention following a World Series title and it makes sense why fans are so skeptical. The real question is whether this skepticism is justified.
Part of the reason why people are so skeptical of Kieboom comes from a misunderstanding of what makes him such a great hitter. Throughout his first four seasons in the minors, Kieboom walked in 11.6% of his plate appearances. While not quite elite, this is still well above average. This translated well in his 2020 season, where he walked at an even better rate: 13.9%.
The ability to get on base at such a high rate is extremely valuable in baseball because even if a player is not getting the hits necessary to help the team, they are still getting on base and not recording an out. This gives the team another chance to score a run. When evaluating Kieboom as this on-base machine and not as the power-hitting third baseman that scouts said he was, he looks like a much more productive hitter.
The assertion that Kieboom was going to be an immediate and legitimate power threat was also quite a stretch. Sure, he hit for decent pop, but it was much more double power than home run power, never reaching over 18 home runs in a single year. His success in the minors always came from being above average at everything.
His struggles defensively have drawn a lot of criticism as well. While he was quite successful at third base in 2020, many of his great plays came from being shifted onto the right side of the infield. His recent struggles at third are not new. In the minors, he struggled there as well. While he was decent at shortstop in the minors, the Nationals have better options there now. A position he excelled at was second base, but Luis García has been great there.
Another important thing to remember is the sample size from which fans judged him. Through his first two seasons, Kieboom had only played in 44 games and logged 165 plate appearances. Up to August 5th, he had only played in 56 games. This is not nearly enough time to pass judgment on a player, especially one as young as him (he is still only 23). A player needs time to adjust to the big-league level because it is quite the jump in skill levels. While some never quite become these great major leaguers that their minor league numbers suggest, to put Kieboom in this boat is unfair.
Give Carter Kieboom some time, not everyone can take the league by storm like some past Nationals’ greats. Given a full season, I think we will all be happy with what we see Kieboom can do.