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Hitting the right notes: Kieboom gets shot at 3rd for Nats

(AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

By HOWARD FENDRICH

AP Sports Writer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) If, as he hopes, and the Washington Nationals hope, Carter Kieboom earns a job this spring as the reigning World Series champions' starting third baseman, he'll do so with the help of years' worth of ideas typed into the Notes app on his cellphone.

Ever since Kieboom was in high school in Marietta, Georgia -- OK, not all that long ago, given that he's still just 22 -- the 2016 first-round draft pick has kept a list of tips and observations he figures will make him a better ballplayer.

"There's no one right way to do things, which is what makes this game so special. For me, especially at a young age, we're given so much information, and I'm constantly trying to improve my game," said Kieboom, who split fielding reps at third with versatile veteran Asdrubal Cabrera on Wednesday.

"It's too much just to keep in your head," Kieboom said. "You've got to put it down and read it as you go along and fall back on it."

His development should be one of the most intriguing story lines for Washington over the next five weeks. The Nationals, after all, need a new third baseman, because Anthony Rendon signed a $245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels following a third-place finish in NL MVP voting.

"I'm not going to come in here and be Anthony Rendon. That's not who I am as a player. He is in a class of his own. That guy is one of the best -- if not THE best -- in baseball," Kieboom said. "That's not my job to try to live up to what he's done. My job is to go play my game."

To develop that game, Kieboom picked up the habit of writing everything down and studying it every so often.

Got that from one of his older brothers, Spencer, who used to be a catcher in the Nationals organization and stored things he wanted to remember about pitchers he worked with.

"If you look at my thoughts from three or four years ago, they're a little more basic. And if you look at my thoughts from the last year or so, they get a little more in-depth and more advanced. It's pretty cool to see the change," the younger Kieboom said. "Some of it, maybe you keep in the back of your mind and maybe use a couple of years down the road, whether it's about fielding or hitting. Maybe it applies to you -- or maybe you figure out how to apply it."

Might come from watching video of today's elite third basemen such as Rendon, Colorado's Nolan Arenado or Oakland's Matt Chapman, or someone he grew up seeing with the Braves, Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

Or from showing up to camp a week ahead of time and spending early mornings on a field practicing footwork with shortstop Trea Turner and coaches Tim Bogar and Chip Hale.

Bogar, who works with Washington's infielders in addition to being the new bench coach, said a lot of what Kieboom needs to get used to are the angles and timing that vary from short to third.

"The more he does it, and the more he sees it," Bogar said, "the better he's going to be."

Said Turner: "He's been trying to learn as much as he can."

Learn how to play third after coming up as a shortstop.

Learn to adjust to big league pitching.

Learn the ways of day-to-day life in the majors.

Learn, most of all, from his struggles during an 11-game, 39-at-bat stint with the Nationals in April and May of 2019, when he filled in at shortstop for an injured Turner.

The numbers were stark: five hits (including two homers), 16 strikeouts, four errors.

"Had a little bit of success, but I failed a lot. To fail in an environment like that, it's different. ... If I had two errors in a game in the minor leagues, I don't have to deal with any media after," said Kieboom, who hit .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs at Triple-A Fresno last year. "It's just a matter of how you handle things. I don't like to fail, but I never felt uncomfortable by any means up there."

General manager Mike Rizzo blamed himself for that too-soon trip to the majors.

"It's a lot to take on for any player, but especially a young player," Rizzo said. "Last year was a failure -- and we're not afraid to call that very short stint a 'failure' for him -- but we're not concerned about that. At all. We see skills and tools and baseball IQ and acumen. Last year was on me for bringing him to the big leagues before he was ready. It was by necessity; we had to do it. ... We also knew he had the makeup and character that if he did go up and fail, he's not going to regress when he comes back up for good."

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Updated February 19, 2020

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