Sunday’s Futures Game showcases top MLB prospects
Harrisburg infielder Carter Kieboom glided a few feet toward the infield grass and fielded a grounder off the bat of Bowie’s Martin Cervenka, then the shortstop fired the ball across the diamond to first baseman Dan Gamache for the out.
It was a fairly routine play in the bottom of the third inning Saturday night in Bowie, but the development of Kieboom has been anything but typical.
The 20-year-old from Georgia is one of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals farm system and he has been selected to play in the Futures Game on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Nationals Park. The game will feature 15 former first-round draft picks from the U.S. taking on an international team with players from eight different countries and territories outside of the U.S.
Kieboom, the youngest player by nearly three years for Double-A Harrisburg, will be joined by Nationals prospect Luis Garcia (world team), an infielder with high Single-A Potomac.
“We are proud of both players and where they are in their development,” said Mark Scialabba, the Nationals director of player development. “It shows the depth we have up the middle in the organization.”
Kieboom has opened eyes with an explosive bat, making him a rare middle infielder in the minors with legitimate power. He hit .298 with 11 homers in 61 games earlier this year with Potomac and then late last month was promoted to Harrisburg, where he hit .351 with two homers in his first 18 games. He had an OPS of .886 in the minors in 2018 through Sunday.
“He has one of the best approaches at the plate I have seen. Him and (Juan) Soto,” said Matt LeCroy, the Harrisburg manager. LeCroy, who will be the bench coach for the U.S. team in the Futures Game, managed Soto for a few games before he was promoted to the Nationals in late May.
But 2016 first-round pick Kieboom gives a lot of credit for his improved defense to Jeff Garber, the co-field coordinator in Nationals player development along with former Orioles infielder Tommy Shields.
Garber was a shortstop at James Madison University, a player and manager in the Royals minor league system and has been in player development with the Nationals for more than a decade.
“I think he is in a class of his own,” Kieboom said of Garber. “When he is there, you are going to get your work in. I can’t give him enough a credit. He truly cares about your well-being and your success.”
Harrisburg catcher Jake Lowery, who was with Triple-A Syracuse earlier this year, has been impressed by Kieboom. “He makes the routine plays at shortstop. His approach at the plate ... he has good strike zone awareness,” said Lowery, a former JMU standout.
A former bullpen coach with the Nationals, LeCroy was teammates on the Minnesota Twins with both managers for the Futures Game: U.S. skipper Torii Hunter and world team manager David Ortiz.
“I am really excited about this opportunity, to be part of a unique opportunity in D.C.,” said LeCroy, sitting in the visitors’ clubhouse in Bowie.
Garcia, 18, began the year with the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League then played his first game with Potomac July 4. The son of a former big leaguer, Garcia was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League earlier this year. He was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican Republic and was hitting .296 this year in games through Sunday.
“He just continues to improve his ability to recognize pitches and stay in the strike zone and hunt the fastball,” Scialabba said of Garcia. “He is still learning multiple positions.”
The 6-foot-2 Kieboom, perhaps, could be with the Nationals when rosters expand in September.
“Carter has shown the ability to have a very consistent approach in everything he does,” Scialabba said. “His power is starting to blossom and he is hitting the ball to all fields. He certainly has the ability to impact a game on both sides of the ball.”
Kieboom is the younger brother of Spencer Kieboom, a catcher in the Nationals system. The younger brother looks forward to playing at Nationals Park on Sunday.
“I think that is the cool part about it,” Kieboom said. “I get to go play in front of the crowd that I hope to play in front of for a long time. It is like my home park and I will be around guys who have helped me get this point.”