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He’s not on Juan Soto’s pace, but Carter Kieboom is well ahead of schedule

Carter Kieboom is making quick progress. (Archive photo)

Welcome to Minor League Monday, our near-weekly look at the goings-on around the Nationals organization.

As word of the Washington Nationals’ trade for Kelvin Herrera spread last week, many asked the same question: Who did they give up? Upon receiving the answer — a list of three names that are not well-known even to those with a cursory understanding of the Nationals’ prospect lists — many once again asked the same question: Who?

The three players the Nationals traded to Kansas City — outfielder Blake Perkins, infielder Kelvin Gutierrez and young pitcher Yohanse Morel — might well turn out to be big leaguers some day. But they are not the highly touted, much talked-about trio of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom, nor the next-wave duo of Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna. When asked the night of the Herrera deal if Kieboom was in the swap, one Nationals executive said, “No way.” A few days later, the 20-year-old shortstop was promoted to Class AA Harrisburg.

Kieboom doesn’t get the same fanfare as Robles and, of course, Soto. But the Nationals’ 2016 first-rounder has risen through the system more quickly than most. Soto has redefined “quickly” in this organization. No one should apply his pace as a rubric to even the most touted youngsters. He was hitting .298 at the time of his ascension from Class A Potomac, a remarkable statistic given he started the season by hitting .198 in April. He hit .391 in May and .327 there in June before the promotion, homering seven times in 37 games in that stretch. Kieboom homered nine times all of last season, his first full professional season, though it was truncated by injury.

Max Scherzer is more than the Cy Young favorite. He’s the NL MVP.

Still, Kieboom’s rise leaves him well ahead of schedule, and now at the level from which Mike Rizzo has a history of plucking top talent (see: Soto, Juan) to fill major league needs. Kieboom probably isn’t at that point yet, though he is off to a strong start for the Senators with a .350 average, two doubles and a homer in four games. Class AA is the level at which pitching makes a dramatic leap, where pitchers can suddenly land breaking balls for strikes consistently, and where many organizations station their top young talent. Kieboom will be tested. But while Soto’s remarkable run will make any prospect’s progress slow by comparison, Kieboom is moving quickly — quickly enough to move into the realm of the untouchable, at least for any kind of rental deal like the one the Nationals made for Herrera.

Also untouchable is Robles, who would probably have started games in the big leagues this season if an elbow injury hadn’t knocked him out just as injuries struck a handful of Nationals outfielders. Robles suffered a hyperextended left elbow, a diagnosis that qualified as a relief, but still counts as severe. One conservative estimate suggested Robles would be ready to be a September call-up at the earliest. He seems to be progressing more quickly than that.

Robles posted videos of himself on his private Instagram account, videos in which he is hitting in the cages in West Palm Beach, apparently uninhibited by that left elbow. What exactly that means for his timetable remains to be seen, and the 20-year-old probably maintains a little less caution than those banking the future of their outfield on him. But that he is hitting marks progress, as Robles was in a full arm brace for much of the first month or so after the injury.

In other news around the system, 2017 first-round pick Seth Romero is now on an every-five-days rotation for Class A Hagerstown, and has thrown four innings in each of his last two outings with 10 strikeouts over those eight innings. A less talked-about pitcher, right-hander Sterling Sharp, was promoted to Class AA Harrisburg along with Kieboom, though only to take the place of Jefry Rodriguez there. Sharp has earned a strong reputation within the organization as a strike-thrower, and the 23-year-old pitched to a 3.16 ERA for Potomac in 14 games. The Nationals selected Sharp in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft, and he has been a steady, consistent performer with a 3.49 ERA across all levels since his professional debut. The Nationals sent him back to Potomac after he went seven scoreless innings and allowed one hit in his Class AA debut.

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