Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Spencer Kieboom
The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we’ll give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.
So far, we’ve caught up with infielder Tony Renda and left-hander Matt Grace. Next up: catcher Spencer Kieboom, who we recently had a chance to chat with about the 2014 season, as well as his experience in the Arizona Fall League.
Kieboom, a fifth-round selection in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson University, missed the 2013 season after undergoing “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned in 2014 to hit .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 61 RBI and 50 runs scored in 87 games for the Hagerstown Suns, en route to being named a 2014 South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star.
In addition to his contributions at the plate, the 23-year-old Kieboom was tasked with handling arguably one of the top pitching staffs in the South Atlantic League. It was a staff that boasted top prospects RHP Lucas Giolito (8th in MLB /1st in org), RHP Austin Voth (9th in org), RHP Nick Pivetta (18th in org) and RHP Reynaldo Lopez (20th in org). (Rankings per MLB.com)
That strong staff helped lead the Suns to an 87-53 record, a second-half South Atlantic League Northern Division championship and a runner-up finish in the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
Here’s what Kieboom had to say:
Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?
On and off the field it has been great. I live with Tony Renda and Derek Self. Both are great guys in the organization. The experience at the field is awesome — being around guys, listening to what they do, and comparing different approaches etc.
How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?
It feels great to put on the uniform every night. Especially when I first arrived, seeing my name on the back of the jersey, that was special.
What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?
I am using the AFL to get more at-bats and have the opportunity to face some of the best pitching. My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career. There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.
How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?
I’ve adjusted fine. Some of the rules, I’ve caught myself and had to move a little quicker or make sure I didn’t go out for a mound visit.
What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?
These guys are a great group. I like having fun at the park and they all do as well, so when I get to the field it’s an instant pick-me-up, regardless of how my day has been going.
What have you done on your off days?
I went and hiked Camel Back Mountain one day. Other days have been very laid back — chill at the pool, grill, or just watch some football
You missed all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. That surgery isn’t as common for position players as it is position players. How was the rehab process for you? How did it feel to get back out and play a full season in 2014?
The physical part of the rehab was not difficult; the hard part was the mental aspect. Showing up every day and digging deep to get the things done that I needed to get done. It’s a long process, and to stay focused was my biggest challenge.
The Suns’ starting pitching staff had a lot of success this season and you were behind the plate for the majority of their starts. What did you see on your end as a reason for their collective success?
All of those guys can just flat out pitch. They’re all students of the game and want to perfect their craft. Those guys not only work hard on the field but also off it, to prepare for their starts. Their success was no surprise to me because they would be ready when the ball was given to them every time.
You lived with Lucas Giolito this season in Hagerstown. What is he like off the field?
Gio is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I have a friendship with him that will last a lifetime. A lot of people don’t know, but Lucas and I roomed together in Florida when we were both rehabbing, too. Him being my roommate when I was going through that time and having someone to help me through the process (since he’d just gone through it) is something I’ll always appreciate.
As a hitter, you’re having success facing some of the top pitching prospects in baseball during the AFL. What has that adjustment been like, going from the South Atlantic League to the Arizona Fall League?
The one thing I try and do is simplify my thoughts. When I go to the plate, I look at it like he’s just another pitcher on the mound and not let myself make the moment bigger than it should be every at-bat, regardless of who is pitching.
You have a familiar face on this team in Patrick Anderson, your manager in Hagerstown. How is it going through this experience with him?
Patrick and I have a special relationship, I feel, from this past season. He’s someone I will talk to for the rest of my life for on- and off-field issues.
The Nationals Major League bullpen coach is fellow Clemson Tiger catcher, Matt LeCroy. Have you met Matt, and has he told you anything?
I’ve met Matt and I enjoy being around him every time I get the chance. He hasn’t told me anything in particular, except a ‘GO TIGERS!’ here and there. I have a lot of respect for him and his career as a professional.