WASHINGTON -- Two players who made arguably the most encouraging strides throughout the Nats' Minor League system have been selected as MLB Pipeline's Prospects of the Year for the Nationals.
Righty Jefry Rodriguez and shortstop Carter Kieboom have been named the team's pitcher and hitter of the year, respectively, as their strides in 2018 could set them up to become major contributors as soon as next season in D.C. Kieboom is the second ranked prospect in the Nats system and 37th overall in baseball. Rodriguez graduated from the prospect list late this year after appearing in 14 games in the Majors.
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Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
After injuries derailed his progress the year prior, Kieboom stayed healthy enough this year to play in 123 games and rose from Class A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg. He represented Washington in the Futures Game at Nationals Park over the summer. Kieboom, the team's first-round pick in 2016, finished the year batting .280/.357/.444 with 16 home runs and nine stolen bases. Kieboom is expected to play in the Arizona Fall League this month.
The rapid rise of Juan Soto helped lead to some calls to push Kieboom, 21, to the Majors quickly when the Nats needed help at second base. However, Kieboom has played only shortstop through his Minor League career and the team did not consider calling him up to play a position he has never played. Finding an everyday second baseman will be a priority for Washington this winter, but perhaps a position change at the start of next year could put Kieboom on a quick track to D.C.
A plethora of injuries to the starting rotation led to Rodriguez getting his chance to start in the Majors much more quickly than expected. And perhaps no player in the organization showed as much improvement from the start of the year to the end.
His overall numbers -- 5.71 ERA in 52 innings -- do not tell the entire story of his season. In his first five Major League appearances, Rodriguez posted a 6.86 ERA with 17 strikeouts and 12 walks, relying mostly on his big fastball to try to get outs. But he developed a changeup and became more confident throwing it during his final nine games in D.C., despite a 5.01 ERA inflated by a bad start against the Brewers on Sept. 2. In those final nine games, Rodriguez held opponents to a .195 batting average and .679 OPS.
Starting pitching is an area the Nats will certainly need to address in the offseason, but it is possible Rodriguez gets a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation entering Spring Training or perhaps gets converted into a multi-inning reliever.