Updated: Oct 14, 2021
I'm a Carter Kieboom apologist and I'm here to recruit you.
Despite coming in at 40th overall on Fangraphs's 2018 Top 100 Prospects list, Carter Kieboom was not a name widely known in the fantasy community beyond the dynasty crowd and prospect hounds. Only 19 years old at the time, Kieboom was coming off of a 2017 in which he spent most of his time playing for the Hagerstown Suns, the level A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. There, in 210 plate appearances, Kieboom hit 8 home runs with a triple slash line of .296/.400/.497 and a wRC+ of 158. Impressive showing, especially for a teenager. Heading into 2018, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote the following:
Kieboom has flashed all five tools above average at times, but the most consistent are his hit and power tools, which should be his calling cards for a long time.
Kieboom put those tools on display in 2018. In 558 plate appearances he hit 16 home runs, 31 doubles, and struck out a respectable 19.5% of the time while walking a respectable 10.3% of the time. That showing bumped him up to number 18 on Fangraphs's 2019 Top 100 Prospects list. Once again, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel were bullish:
This is a complete player with a chance to hit in the middle of the order and also stay at shortstop, if not second or third base. That’s a potential All-Star.
With everyone knowing his name in 2019, Carter Kieboom started his season at AAA on a tear. In roughly three weeks, Kieboom hit .379 with six doubles, three home runs, 18 RBI, and 16 walks. Trea Turner went down with an injury and Washington called up Kieboom on April 26. Fantasy enthusiasm was palpable.
Of course, everyone knows that Kieboom fell flat on his face in the Major Leagues in 2019. In 43 plate appearances, he slashed .128/.209/.282. Washington sent him back down to AAA Fresno where he raked for the rest of the season (16 HR | .303/.409/.493).
His prospect stock remained high, with a 21st overall ranking on Fangraphs's 2020 Top 100 Prospects list. Take a look at how Eric and Kiley continued to describe him:
Kieboom projects as a middle of the order bat with All-Star talent.
When 2020 began, the Nationals gave Kieboom a chance to play third base. Once again, he fell flat on his face. This time, over 122 plate appearances, he slashed .202/.344/.212. The one saving grace was his decent .344 on-base percentage (thank you 13.9% walk rate), but he didn't hit at all, lucking his way into one double and two home runs without barreling a single batted ball.
Across two seasons, in 175 plate appearances in the Major Leagues, Carter Kieboom has been quite awful. His stock is way down. Owners in dynasty leagues can't give him away. His average draft position in 2021 NFBC Draft Champions leagues at the time of this writing is 436. Nobody wants him. He's free.
At this point, you might be thinking: I thought this was a post about rehabilitating Carter Kieboom's stock...
It is, and this ain't no pump-and-dump. Here's why.
First, pedigree. Bust rates notwithstanding, top prospects are top prospects for a reason. They're bursting with ability. Look back at the words Eric and Kiley use to describe what they see in Kieboom observing him over the course of three years: "Hit and power tools . . . should be his calling card for a long time," "potential all-star," "middle of the order bat with all-star talent."
That pedigree has been well earned in his professional career. In seven minor league stops spread over four seasons, Kieboom was never a below average hitter (per wRC+). Not at a single stop. He is not a free-swinging slugger with a massive strikeout rate who we should expect to fall on his face in the major leagues, despite his having done so. He has four different minor league samples larger than the chance he has been given in the major leagues, all of which he excelled in. Of course, the Major Leagues are not the minors, but even a modest regression from his MLB performance is a significant improvement.
If you squint, there are reasons for optimism between Kieboom's MLB samples. He increased his walk rate from 9.3% to 13.9%, reduced his strikeout rate from 37.2% to 27%, increased his contact rate from 73.3% to 76.5%, and did a better job of using all fields by reducing hits down the middle.
Quality of playing time also matters. Despite a better (but still bad) showing in 2020, Kieboom did not receive consistent playing time. Look at the beginning of the season. He started on July 25, then didn't play for three days, then started one game (July 30th), then didn't play for four days, then started one game (Aug. 4), then didn't play for two days, then played one game (Aug. 7), then had one off day, then played two days in a row (Aug. 9 & 10), and then had two days off. It went like that all season. Kieboom was never given a true chance to play every day and work through his issues and make adjustments. That says more about Washington's urgency in trying to win a second consecutive World Series than it does about Kieboom's abilities. Letting players work through their struggles at the major league level is a luxury that most win-now teams don't have.
175 plate appearances is still a small sample, particularly when spread across two seasons (one being highly irregular to begin with) and with inconsistent appearances. In 2021, Kieboom should get another shot. Asdrubal Cabrera, his main competitor at 3B, is now gone. We should expect that with a longer season, there will be a little more patience in letting Kieboom work through any immediate issues. His cost in all formats of fantasy leagues is negligible and the profit potential is immense. Make him one of your final dart throws. Go pay a few pennies for him in a dynasty format.
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