WASHINGTON -- The last time Carter Kieboom played second base regularly, he was the smallest player on the team.
"Had the weakest arm," Kieboom said. "So had to play second base."
That's how it goes in elementary school, but not since those youth baseball days had the 21-year-old Kieboom, now 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, been a second baseman -- until this winter.
Kieboom played nine games at second base in the Arizona Fall League this past November because the Nationals wanted him to get reps at the position. Kieboom, the Nats' No. 2 prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline and the 25th-ranked prospect overall, has risen through Washington's system so far as a shortstop. But with Trea Turner entrenched there in D.C., second base presents Kieboom with his fastest path to the Majors.
And yet, because of that inexperience, the Nationals are going to be patient with Kieboom's development. The Nats bought themselves time to be patient this offseason when they signed Brian Dozier to a one-year deal, a stopgap to keep the position warm along with Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo. It should not change anything about Kieboom's development.
"He's a terrific athlete and he's got an unbelievable baseball IQ, so I don't see it being a long developmental curve, but he hasn't played [second] very much," general manager Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings. "He's a young Minor League player, so it's the intricacies of playing middle infield, especially second base, is delicate. So it's something that we're going to make sure he knows what he's doing before he gets there, because it's dangerous if you don't."
The Arizona Fall League can serve as one of the on-field stops for prospects who seem destined to reach the Majors soon. And the Rookie Career Development Program helps to teach players near the Majors how to handle off-field issues. Kieboom was among the many attendees in early January, another indication of how close the organization believes he is to the big leagues.
"To kind of learn how to be a professional," Kieboom said. "There's not one way to do it, there's a lot of ways to do it, and I think that's what we've been told here. Be who you are, and there's no really one way to go about it."
Kieboom continued his steady progress in the Minors this past season, earning a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg and a chance to play in the Futures Game at Nationals Park in the summer. He posted a combined .801 OPS with 16 homers and nine stolen bases. Kieboom admitted at the team's Winterfest event in early December that he is still getting used to some of the footwork around the second-base bag, but the Nats will give him time.
Washington has also shown that it is not afraid to call a young player up -- see Juan Soto and before him, Turner. If Kieboom begins tearing up Minor League pitching this year and adjusts to second base quickly, perhaps he could make his way to D.C. as soon as this summer. But the more likely scenario is that the Nationals will wait until they are near certain Kieboom is ready.