Washington Nationals: Spencer Kieboom helping resolve catching problem
By Blake Finney
The Washington Nationals have been among the league’s worst when it comes to production at catcher, but Spencer Kieboom has helped ease those concerns.
The Washington Nationals currently rank a lowly 24th in fWAR from their catching position this season. However, seemingly the most impressive in the group in young backstop Spencer Kieboom.
After his call-up in May, he initially struggled at the plate as he adapted to big league pitching. Entering September, he was slashing just .191/.277/.247 and was struggling to get his swing in sync to begin with.
But he’s managed to completely flip the script so far this fall after being given an extended chance. He even became an internet sensation in the middle of the month too, after hitting his first home run just moments after spitting out a fake tooth.
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This month he’s slashing a stellar .364/.462/.545 in 13 games so far, which includes his first two career major league home runs. That adds up to an OPS of 1.007, and the only player with a higher OPS this month on the team is Anthony Rendon at 1.122.
He’s also stacking up well against his fellow catchers across the major leagues. Currently, Kieboom sits eighth in OPS and sixth in wRC+ among catchers this month, while also being joint-third in fWAR.
His glove has arguably been more impressive than his bat though, perhaps even more so when throwing out base stealers. So far this year, he’s thrown out an exceptional 58% of players trying swipe a base, while usually doing so from his knees.
Kieboom has never really been a blue-chip prospect in the organization after being drafted in the fifth round out of Clemson back in 2012. The only times he has been ranked by MLB.com’s team prospect rankings were when he was 21st in 2015 and 30th in 2016. The latter report read the following:
"“Kieboom is an advanced receiver who can frame, and he’s long received praise for his ability to handle a pitching staff. His arm is plenty strong — even after Tommy John surgery — and consistently plays up thanks to his quiet footwork, clean transfer and quick release. As a right-handed hitter with good contact skills, Kieboom is at his best when he employs an up-the-middle approach, though it does detract from his power potential.”"
Most of that is coming to pass this season, and his September performance is proof that he is at least developing as a hitter. Overall, until he can show more sustained hitting ability, he will still profile better as a backup given his strong defensive skills.
With Matt Wieters‘ contract expiring this offseason, the Washington Nationals will likely opt to go find a new primary starting catcher. At the very least Spencer Kieboom has the best case to be the first-choice backup to that new catcher.
It’s always important on a contending team to have a strong backup catcher, given the rigors of the position. Kieboom is certainly looking like a damn good backup this month, that’s for sure.