One of the biggest challenges to major-league front offices and scouting departments of winning organizations is to continue developing prospects into contributing players despite picking low in the draft each year.
The Nationals have finished with a winning record in eight consecutive seasons dating back to 2012, never picking higher than 16th overall. Since drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in 2009 and 2010, Washington has slowly drained its farm system of all the players it acquired while rebuilding in the second half of the 2000s decade.
However, the Nationals have still found a way to replenish its minor-league depth with a couple promising prospects each year. Their farm system has been top-heavy in recent years, but the talent at the top has panned out more often than not.
That once again will be the approach in 2020, as the Nationals only had two players who appeared on the top-100 prospect rankings that were released over the past few weeks.
Carter Kieboom, who will have an opportunity to compete for the starting third base job in Spring Training, came in at 11th (Baseball Prospectus), 15th (Baseball America) and 21st (MLB Pipeline). Joining him on Baseball America’s list (91st) and MLB Pipeline’s rankings (97th) was infielder Luis Garcia. He was unranked by Baseball Prospectus.
Washington gave Kieboom a taste of the big leagues last season, but he struggled to the tune of a .128 batting average with 16 strikeouts and four errors in 11 games. He spent the rest of the season with AAA-Fresno and prepared all offseason to make the switch from his natural position of shortstop over to third base.
“I’m as ready as I possibly can be,” Kieboom said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event. “I think as a player if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in an offseason.”
On the Baseball America podcast, evaluator Kyle Glaser explained that Kieboom was originally slated at No. 13 but was moved back behind Casey Mize (Detroit Tigers) and Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay Rays) “based on some front-office feedback.” However, Kieboom was ranked 41st by Baseball America in 2019, so the 15th-overall spot still represents a sizeable jump.
Garcia, 19, was a unanimous top-100 prospect last season, ranking as high as 61st and as low as 81st between the three evaluators. He made his first stint at AA-Harrisburg in 2019 and struggled both drawing walks and hitting for power. His .280 on-base percentage was a steep dive from the .336 mark he posted between High-A Potomac and A-Hagerstown the year prior, while he hit just 30 extra-base hit (four homers) in 129 games.
But given his young age, Garcia still presents plenty of upside if he can take a step forward in 2020. Washington sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October and he showed signs of improvement, posting a .276/.345/.382 slash line in 87 plate appearances.
He’s rated as a good fielder, grading out at 60 for both his arm and his glove on the 20-80 scale by MLB Pipeline. Although a natural shortstop, Garcia played 38 games at second base last season and didn’t record a single error. If Trea Turner remains entrenched at short, Garcia will likely be moved over to second long term.
With Kieboom representing the Nationals as the lone consensus top-100 prospect, the Nationals joined the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams with just one consensus top-100 player. The Milwaukee Brewers were the only team with none.
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