Kieboom and García are part of the Opening Day roster for the Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings, who are making their debut as the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate. Kieboom and Garcia were on the big league roster to start the season because of teammates’ virus-related complications and then spent time at the alternate site.
“It’s making sure that their bodies are prepared to handle whatever comes their way at the major league level,” Mark Scialabba, the Nationals’ assistant general manager for player development, said Monday during a video conference call. “There’s development in that regard as well, especially for the younger hitters like a Kieboom or García.
“We have a plan for them. They’ve been following that at the alternate site, and we hope they continue to create more consistency in what they’re doing on the field, and we’re going to continue their development program.”
Kieboom was optioned to the minors in late March after struggling to earn the starting job at third base, where Anthony Rendon’s departure to the Los Angeles Angels in December 2019 has left a gaping hole in the Nationals’ lineup.
Kieboom, the Nationals’ 2019 minor league player of the year, was unable to secure the job last summer before he was given another shot this year in spring training. He had six hits in 45 at-bats (a .133 average) and struck out 17 times in Grapefruit League play.
In 167 regular season plate appearances in the majors, Kieboom has a .180 average with a .311 on-base percentage and a .230 slugging percentage.
His journey back to the big leagues will get another push when the Red Wings play their season opener Tuesday night against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pa.
“He’s in a good place,” Scialabba said. “He has people that he trusts in the organization from a coaching standpoint. He’s learning how to deal with making adjustments and dealing with adversity, and when things aren’t going his way, he’s got to learn how to adapt.”
García made 35 starts at second base for the Nationals last year when Starlin Castro was out with a broken wrist. He is slated to play the majority of his games with Rochester at shortstop, Scialabba said.
Kieboom and García were called up from the alternate site at the beginning of this season when the Nationals had nine players unavailable because they tested positive for the coronavirus or came into close contact with a teammate who did. Neither Kieboom nor García remained in the majors for long once Washington began getting its regulars back.
“Some of the players are going to be coming back down from D.C., and then there’s some players there fighting to get back to the big leagues, and you want to see them perform,” Scialabba said. “Each player is a little different, but there’s certainly a development element that’s critically important.”
Protocols from the pandemic remain in place for minor leaguers, who are tested regularly and must quarantine if called up to the majors from any level other than Class AAA. Players such as Kieboom and García are eligible to join their big league clubs immediately upon passing a point-of-care test.
The Red Wings are replacing the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies as Washington’s Class AAA affiliate, a significant geographic change that stands to benefit the parent club when it shuttles players from the minors to the big leagues and vice versa.
The Nationals’ other minor league affiliates, which are also set to begin play Tuesday, are Class AA Harrisburg (Pa.), high Class A Wilmington (Del.) and low Class A Fredericksburg.
“It obviously gives us the benefit of having players ready to go that will be able to make it to the game on time and not have to take a red-eye flight, or hopefully not have to deal with major travel issues,” Scialabba said. “I know when we had the affiliation with Syracuse [from 2009 to 2018], it was an easy, quick, hour flight, or if you had to drive, guys would drive as well.”