WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Carter Kieboom spent his offseason preparing to play third base at the Major League level for the Nationals. There were workouts and drills … and more workouts and drills, hours upon hours spent transitioning from shortstop.
But all those training routines aren’t live action, the latest phase of Kieboom’s adjustment to his new position.
“There’s a game, and then there’s practice,” Kieboom said on Monday. “You have a hitter versus you have a coach hitting you the fungo. … The balls off the bat are different. You’re put in a situation where you’re having to make different plays than you ever have to make in practice. … It’s just different reads, it’s different judgments, it’s game speed.”
The 22-year-old played his first contest at third base on Sunday in a split-squad road matchup against the Marlins. Kieboom went 0-for-3 and drew a walk at the plate. He was assessed the team’s only error, a throwing mishap, in the Nats’ 5-2 loss.
“You can learn from good moments and you can learn from bad moments,” Kieboom said. “That’s just the way I approach it, especially during Spring Training.”
Kieboom described himself as even-keeled, and he viewed Sunday’s game as just that -- one game.
“There’s going to be a lot of firsts for everything out there,” he said. “There’s going to be your first diving play at third base. There’s going to be your first ground ball up third base to throw to first. ... The more plays you make, the more you get to learn. …
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on a ball hit to my left on a line-drive short hop. I know how I’m going to read the ball and how I’m going to try to field the ball. If that doesn’t work out, then, 'OK, what did I do wrong?' It’s very simple, it’s a simple approach. It’s an approach that's very easy to learn from.”
This spring, Kieboom has the opportunity to earn the starting job at the hot corner after it was vacated by the departure of Anthony Rendon in free agency. Given his previous experience (11 Major League games, all at shortstop), the Nationals understand there will be an adjustment period.
“The game gets quicker. That’s something a young player needs to understand,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We put him on a good routine every morning. He comes in, he works on different things -- backhands, his throwing, playing deep, playing in. Every day we pick something to work on with him, but he’s got to constantly do it. And we’ve got to do it at a quicker pace so in a game, it just comes naturally. And he’s actually been doing that. Bogey [bench coach Tim Bogar] says he works unbelievably hard. Now, it’s just getting him out there and getting him reps out there.”
Kieboom got the day off in Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Mets at home. Spring Training is just getting started, and there is another month for Kieboom to continue to learn the ins and outs of his role before Opening Day.
“We really believe that he could be our third baseman,” Martinez said. “He’s learning a new position. I think he’s going to be fine over there, I really do.”