Detroit Tigers Trade Target: Carter Kieboom
By Chris Brown
Washington’s young infielder Carter Kieboom is on the trading block.
On Tuesday Britt Ghiroli of the Athletic reported the Washington Nationals were open to trading their highly touted young infielder Carter Kieboom.
The Detroit Tigers theoretically have an opening in the infield, and the team can use young talent anywhere, but is Carter Kieboom worth targeting, and do the Tigers have what it takes to get him? Let’s take a closer look to find out.
Who is Carter Kieboom?
The Washington Nationals used the 28th overall pick in the 2016 draft to select Carter Kieboom out of Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia. Kieboom looked like he might stick at shortstop, he was considered one of the best prep hitters in the class, and the Nationals were already familiar with his family, as they drafted his older brother Spencer out of Clemson in the fifth round in 2012.
Carter Kieboom was decent in his first taste of pro ball, batting .244 with 12 extra-base hits in 36 Gulf Coast League games in 2016. He jumped to Low-A Hagerstown in 2017 and performed well, batting .297 with 9 home runs and 12.5% walk rate, but a hamstring injury limited him to just 61 games.
The Nationals promoted Kieboom to High-A in 2018 and he hit his way to Double-A by the middle of the year, batting a combined .280 with a 10.4% walk rate, 16 homers, and 31 doubles in 123 games. He had his best year yet in 2019, earning an early-season call up to the Majors and hitting .303/.409/.493 at Triple-A Fresno.
Carter Kieboom made his MLB debut on April 26, 2019, and in the bottom of the 8th he tied the game with his his first career hit, a home run to center.
He went deep again two days later, but then went 2-for-27 with 11 strikeouts in his next eight games and was sent back to Triple-A.
With Anthony Rendon off to the Los Angeles Angels, the Nationals eventually named Carter Kieboom their starting third baseman for 2020. He began the season 5-for-12 with 4 walks, but he struggled mightily for the rest of the year. At one point he was sent back to the team’s alternate training site, and his season ended prematurely when he was hit by a pitch.
Overall he hit .202/.344/.212 with just one extra-base hit in 133 plate appearances, but he walked at a 13.9% clip, and he played solid defense at third base. He even tied the major-league record for most assists in a 9-inning game.
Carter Kieboom Scouting Report
Nearly every scouting report on Carter Kieboom mentions three things: good bat speed, an advanced approach, and the ability stick in the infield. In 2016 MLB Pipeline rated him their 45th overall draft prospect and wrote this:
"Thanks to excellent hand-eye coordination and a mature approach, Kieboom barrels balls repeatedly. He had the best at-bats of anyone at the Under Armour All-America Game in July…Factor in Kieboom’s quality bat speed and the loft in his right-handed swing, and he should have at least average power once he fills out. A shortstop in high school, Kieboom has the actions, soft hands and solid arm strength to get the job done at third base in pro ball."
By 2019 most outlets had given up on the idea of Kieboom staying at shortstop, but the bulk that pushed him down the defensive spectrum also raised his power projections. This is what FanGraphs had to say before the 2019 season:
"He is going to stay on the infield, and has big, playable raw power, and we’re unconcerned about his late-season struggles. Kieboom’s hands work in a tight, explosive circle, which generates all-fields thump and enables Kieboom to catch up to premium velocity. He’s a little heavy-footed on defense but his arm plays on the left side of the infield and his mediocre range might be able to be hidden by modern defensive positioning."
Prior to the 2020 season Baseball America named Carter Kieboom their #15 overall prospect in baseball, and declared him to be a future plus hitter who should have average-or-better power.
Kieboom was one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2020, and teams who have seen him at the highest level may be a bit skeptical. It’s probably not fair to judge him for hitting .181 in 138 career at-bats, but his hard-hit rate of 20.9% in 2020 ranked 340th out of 352 hitters with at least 50 batted-ball events.
Any team seeking to acquire Carter Kieboom may have to deal with some severe growing pains, or another year in the minors.
Carter Kieboom and the Detroit Tigers
We know the Washington Nationals are in win-now mode — they just traded two of their top-ten prospects to land two years of the slightly above-average first baseman Josh Bell. Their willingness to trade Carter Kieboom now may mean they’ve soured on him, or it could simply mean they don’t want to wait another year or two for him to figure out MLB pitching.
The Detroit Tigers apparently have all the time in the world for their rebuild, so trading for Kieboom would make a lot of sense.
But this is where it gets a bit complicated, because the Nationals probably aren’t lowering their price tag, and they presumably want established MLB talent in return — something Detroit is a bit short on at the moment.
We can still make this work, but we have to be creative. Carter Kieboom has at least five years of team control remaining and ZiPS projects him to produce just over 5 WAR in the next two seasons. It’s probably safe to lower that estimate to 3 WAR or so, but Kieboom is going to be expensive, no matter what.
The site Baseball Trade Values puts his value in roughly the same range as Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. A one-for-one prospect swap could work, but it really looks like the Nationals are seeking an established bat. To make it work, the Tigers would have to do something like this:
In this scenario the Nationals get three years of a starting third baseman in Candelario, four years of a solid 4th outfielder in Victor Reyes, and three years of a quality bullpen arm in Cisnero. In return the Tigers get five years of a potentially above-average third baseman in Kieboom, and up to five years of a potential 5th starter in Austin Voth.
Does a deal like this make sense for the Detroit Tigers? One could argue Kieboom’s ceiling is probably what we saw from Candelario last year, or Reyes still has room to grow into an everyday outfielder, but based on everything we’ve seen, Kieboom meshes with Detroit’s timeline better. He should be entering his prime around the same time as Mize, Skubal, Matt Manning, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson.
Acquiring Carter Kieboom would be a bold, risky move for the Detroit Tigers, but four years from now it could mean the difference between a division title and a wild card berth.