The future and the present of professional baseball — it was all on display Sunday evening at Nationals Park.
In a game Sunday night at Nationals Park featuring the game’s stars of tomorrow, the best minor leaguers showed that, like their brethren in the majors, they’re in love with swinging for the fences.
The U.S. team outslugged the World team 10-6 in the 2018 All-Star Futures Game, just one of several preliminary events leading up to baseball’s main event on Tuesday night, the MLB All-Star Game.
Each team smashed four home runs, with two hit by Dodgers prospect Yusniel Diaz of the World. The game also featured 16 strikeouts, with the U.S. squad whiffing 10 times.
“The ball carries here. There were no cheapies today,” said Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom, a reserve shortstop for the U.S. team. “It was really fun to watch.”
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle, an infielder with the Double-A Bowie Baysox and the U.S. team. “I mean, they are the best of the best (hitters). When they connect you know they are going to go. It was fun to watch.”
Kieboom is the younger brother of Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom. And one of his teammates is Daniel Murphy, the Washington infielder who is a big fan of launch angles and exit velocity.
But that is not the approach of Carter Kieboom, who plays for the Double-A Harrisburg (Penn.) Senators of the Eastern League.
“I don’t think we have that sort of thing in the minor leagues,” said Kieboom, who was 0-for-2. “I have never even thought about (launch angles). It is not who I am. I don’t think I need to worry about stuff like that.”
One of the homers hit by the U.S. team was by Ke’Bryan Hayes, an infield prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He hit a two-run homer in the fourth off pitcher Lewis Thorpe, a lefty in the Minnesota Twins system who grew up in Australia.
“I think it was just a little bit of adrenaline,” said Hayes, standing his locker in the U.S. clubhouse at Nationals Park after the game. “Guys were throwing pretty hard. I think we were using big league balls. Guys were excited about that.”
Hayes is the son of Charlie Hayes, a former third baseman in the big leagues. The younger Hayes, like Kieboom, also doesn’t get caught swayed by modern-day analytics.
“I feel today everyone gets caught up with launch angles,” said Hayes, playing for Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League. “My dad told me you learn to make contact and the power would come when you get older. When I was younger I worked middle (of the plate) away. I think that is why I am able to get contact. I want to hit it hard. That is all I try to do. If it goes out (of the park) it goes out.”
Many hitters these days try to pull the ball all of the time and are hesitant to choke up with two strikes or try to hit the ball to the opposite field.
So does that give the pitcher an advantage if they know that?
“Yeah, I think so. I am still learning at this time. This is my first full year,” said Reds pitching prospect Hunter Greene, a first-round draft pick out of a California high school last year who hit 102 miles-per-hour on the stadium radar Sunday. “It does give us an advantage.”
Matt Manning, a pitching prospect with the Detroit Tigers, remembers when Houston pitcher Justin Verlander suggested that the major league baseballs were juiced earlier this year. Verlander, a former standout at Old Dominion University, made his big league debut with Detroit in 2005.
Manning gave up four hits and two runs while recording four outs Sunday for the U.S. squad.
“It was amazing the way they swung the bat. It was entertainment. It was fun for the players to put on a show for the fans. It made for a good game.”
The other Nationals prospect in the game was Single-A Potomac infielder Luis Garcia, who played for the world team. He played in the field but did not have an official at-bat.
“It was a good experience for me because this is Major League Baseball. I think that I need to be here next year for full time,” Garcia said through translator and journalist John Sang. “My goal is to reach Major League as soon as possible. If I can do this year, I want to do it this year.”