The crowd boomed when the final player was announced during pregame introductions for the Futures Game at Nationals Park on this muggy Sunday afternoon, a player most had heard about but never watched perform on a baseball diamond. Carter Kieboom absorbed the applause. He took off his Team USA cap and tipped it as he spun around to acknowledge the rousing welcome from all corners. The rosters were loaded with talent designated as baseball’s next stars, but all eyes were on Kieboom, a familiar name poised to call South Capitol Street home in the coming years.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Kieboom said. “It’s really cool to see the fans get up around you and applaud you like that. It’s always fun.”
While Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer are slated to attract attention over the next few days, beginning with Harper participating in Monday’s home run derby and Scherzer likely starting Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Sunday offered a prologue featuring another peek into the impending wave of talent brewing in Washington’s farm system.
After Juan Soto and Victor Robles, there’s Kieboom, a prospect the Nationals envision bolstering their lineup sooner rather than later — if they hold onto him long enough — with the kind of pop usually not found in middle infielders. He was joined Sunday by fellow shortstop Luis Garcia as Nationals representatives, but the 18-year-old Garcia, who played second base and walked in his only plate appearance as the youngest player on either team, is developing for a more distant future. Kieboom, 20, is next.
“It’s special. Walking [into] any big league park is awesome but to walk into this one, to be in the nation’s capital I think it’s extra special,” Kieboom said. “To be able to wear the W and represent my family and the Nationals and walk into this clubhouse is second-to-none.”
Kieboom was standing in the Nationals’ home clubhouse, holding court with the media for 20 minutes across the room from his brother Spencer’s locker. Spencer, a 27-year-old catcher, was finishing off the season’s first half with the Nationals in New York, but the rest of the Kieboom family was in Washington for the day.
“He joked around and said he wanted to put his name above my locker,” Kieboom said. “So I might leave him a name tag so he can put it up above his.”
There could come a time when the two Kieboom brothers are in the clubhouse at the same time as big leaguers. But the younger Kieboom is two levels and probably at least a year away from making that a possibility, though the Nationals have recently shown they’re not afraid to rapidly push a prospect through their system if they deem him qualified.
Two years after Washington drafted him in the first round of out high school, Kieboom has batted .300 with 13 home runs and an .860 OPS in 81 games between Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg this season. After an injury-plagued 2017, that performance has propelled his profile and standing on publications’ prospect rankings, convincing talent evaluators he’ll become an everyday player at the big league level.
“He’s got a hitting ability that’s going to play up here,” said Harrisburg Manager Matthew LeCroy, who served as Team USA’s bench coach on Sunday. “He stays within himself every day and he’s got a swagger to him. He knows he can play and that’s what’s going to take him over the edge. The mental makeup is off the charts. So a lot of good signs for our system.”
The question then becomes where Kieboom will play in the field if he reaches the majors as a National. As constructed, the Nationals don’t need a shortstop any time soon. Trea Turner has established himself as Washington’s everyday shortstop and won’t be a free agent until 2023. Kieboom, therefore, would have to move elsewhere in the infield, but the Nationals haven’t yet reached that point with him. Kieboom has only played shortstop as a professional and LeCroy said there are no plans to shift him yet.
“He’s got athletic ability,” LeCroy said. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem to move him around, but you want him to play as much shortstop as he can.”
Kieboom entered Sunday’s game at shortstop in the fifth inning and immediately displayed his range with a diving stop on a ball hit up the middle, though his throw was off the mark. He struck out in his first at-bat with a runner on second and no outs in the seventh, after another roar resonated when his name was announced. He was showered with another one when he stepped to the plate for his second and final plate appearance in the eighth inning before he struck out again in what could’ve been his final at-bat at Nationals Park as a minor leaguer.
“When I finally got out there I was happy to be out there,” Kieboom said. “I enjoyed it. Every moment of it.”
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