A few hours later, he connected on an inside fastball from the New York Yankees’ Carlos Rodón and sent it just over the fence in left field for a home run. It was the first swing of his first at-bat in the majors since 2021. Kieboom dashed around the bases, making sure to salute his teammates in the dugout and point to the bullpen during a few moments he called “crazy.”
“It almost felt like a debut, but a debut where I felt like I belonged and I felt like I was comfortable,” said Kieboom, who finished 1 for 3 in the Washington Nationals’ 2-1 win. “And I had a real game plan that I could stick to the whole time. In the past, sometimes I’d get away from myself. … But today, I’ve had a year and a half to really think about what I want to do in the box and stick with it. So it made it a lot easier for me.”
Before CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, Kieboom was a prized prospect that the Nationals hoped would grow into a player they could build around. Now 25, he probably is on his last chance to prove he can stick in this organization.
Being a first-round pick (in 2016) can grant you an extra chance or two, and he has had the benefit of plenty. But after he debuted in 2019 and played sparingly for the World Series winners, he underperformed in the following two seasons. He had the chance to be the everyday third baseman in 2022, but elbow soreness that led to Tommy John surgery ended his season before it began.
He entered this year as the backup at third base to Jeimer Candelario, who was dealt to the Chicago Cubs ahead of the trade deadline. Kieboom battled a shoulder injury that set him back at the start of the season and an oblique issue that caused him to miss time from late June until he returned in early August.
“I just told myself that you worked so hard for this and you worked so hard to come back,” Kieboom said Sunday. “Now you just have to enjoy it. No more pressure on yourself. And really just have fun with the time you have left. And that’s kind of where my head’s at right now.”
Kieboom was promoted from Class AAA Rochester on Sunday as the 27th man for the Little League Classic and remained with the Nationals after they optioned infielder Jeter Downs. In 34 games with the Red Wings, Kieboom hit .264 with five home runs. He said he feels more comfortable in this clubhouse, which he believes will bode well for him.
Previously, each time he came to the majors, Kieboom felt he would try to make changes to his swing instead of sticking to his approach. As a result, he would think too much and lose sight of what allowed him to have success in the minors. But he believes this time around, he’ll be okay as long as he focuses on his process, not his results.
“Hopefully he feels like he can go out there and play freely and kind of just be himself,” left-hander Patrick Corbin said. “He’s going to have the opportunities now that he’s here, and he’s going to be out there quite a bit. So hopefully he gained some confidence with that and he’s able to just go out there and do what he’s capable of doing.”
There isn’t much in Kieboom’s way at the moment, but there certainly are options behind him. Brady House, the Nationals’ 2021 first-round pick, started his season at low Class A Fredericksburg and is now with Class AA Harrisburg. Trey Lipscomb, a 2022 third-round pick, played third base in college but has seen time at second base and shortstop while playing alongside House. Yohandy Morales, the Nationals’ second-round pick this year now at high Class A Wilmington, plays third, too.
But if Kieboom can prove he’s capable as a hitter, he could stick around as a utility player. Manager Dave Martinez will probably give him the majority of the starts against left-handed pitchers. He will mostly play third base (as he did Tuesday) but occasionally will be the designated hitter.
After Tuesday’s win, Kieboom was summoned to see Martinez. Typically, players aren’t smiling when they leave the manager’s office — often because of an unwelcome roster move. But Kieboom left with a smirk.
“I told him I was proud of him,” Martinez said. “He went down there and worked really hard to get back up here and has a good first day. It’s not always easy when you get hurt and you got to work your way back. He went through the process, and he did it well.”