WASHINGTON – With the draft lasting just five rounds this year, the Nationals selected just one infielder among their six picks back in June.
But there were four new infielders in the organization on the Instructional League roster in West Palm Beach before the club broke camp in late October.
In addition to Samuel Infante, 19, the second-round compensation pick out of a Florida high school, there were three non-drafted free agents who were signed as infielders: Jake Boone, 21, who played three years at Division I Princeton; Quade Tomlin, 18, one of the top high school players in Virginia the past two seasons; and Gio Diaz, 21, who played in college at St. Mary’s of California.
Getting a first look at the players was Jeff Garber, 54, the co-field coordinator in player development along with Fairfax native Tommy Shields.
While Shields was an infielder with the Orioles and Cubs, Garber was a shortstop at James Madison in Virginia and reached the Triple-A level in the Kansas City system as an infielder.
“It was his first taste of pro ball,” Garber said of Infante, who went to high school in the Miami area.
“Coming in and being wide-eyed and understanding what he needs to do to get to the big leagues and be as good as he needs to be, it was a fun process.
“With high school kids, it is always a little more of an education sometimes in the beginning.
“He was eager to learn and willing to learn and that was great. He is very athletic, he has tremendous bat potential and he moves well in the infield.”
“The best part of this, when you are in high school, it gives them an opportunity to understand how they are going to have to work and getting ready for Spring Training.
“Now you are working on your own. For all of these new guys, that was a tremendous benefit.
“They didn’t get a chance to get oriented to any professional baseball since there was no (minor league) season.”
Boone and Tomlin are no strangers to the Washington organization.
Bob Boone, the grandfather of Jake, is a long-time advisor to general manager Mike Rizzo and a former All-Star catcher with the Phillies and Angels.
Randy Tomlin, the father of Quade, is a former pitching coach at Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals’ system. He pitched for the Pirates from 1990-94.
“He is a baseball rat; he has been around it,” Garber said of Tomlin. “It was great to see him in a different capacity instead of a kid running around (at Potomac and Harrisburg some 10 years ago) and hanging out with his dad.
“His personality … a willingness to work and want to learn. Even when he wasn’t scheduled to work he was hanging out” at the park in West Palm Beach, Garber noted. “He has been around the game, he understands the game and how tough it can be to make it.
“There is so much to learn, so much to absorb. He was there every day with a great attitude. You wouldn’t know he was 0 for 4 or 4 for 4. You wouldn’t know if he made the play (on defense) or didn’t make the play. It was just really fun to watch him and his willingness to learn and to get better.”
Boone turned down the chance to play his fourth year at Princeton. His grandfather was able to see Jake in Florida in October.
“A tremendous amount of baseball savvy. The knowledge that he has and the pedigree is —without question is really something,” Garber said of Boone. “His ability to go out and make plays and compete, that is what I liked.”
“It was very evident he understood what it is going to take. He doesn’t take his name for granted. He plays hard; he is a very scrappy player and has the ability to move all over the infield. He is very strong and wiry; it was just great to see his hunger and get better and make an impact right away. He made tremendous plays in the field.”
Diaz played for Bethesda in the Cal Ripken League in 2019.
“He is a guy that has a lot of potential and can move around” the infield, Garber said.
“He made a good impression. His hands and feet work well. He got a chance to play all over the infield so he had a great experience as well.”
Diaz signed in June out of St. Mary’s – he hit at the top of the order for the Gaels in 2020.
“From what is told to me, they develop their minor league players to become big league players better than most organizations, which intrigued me. The deal was the best for both sides and I’m happy to join the Nationals’ organization,” he said of Washington in a statement put out by his college.