Filling in at second for an injured Starlin Castro last season, Washington Nationals’ prospect Luis García played 40 games and made 139 plate appearances, putting up a solid if not spectacular .276/.302/.366 line, with six doubles and two home runs, in what ended up being a -0.4 fWAR campaign for the 20-year-old rookie.
García had not played above Double-A ball before the 40-game stint in the 60-game COVID campaign, but the infielder was part of the Nationals’ 60-man player pool, and when there ended up being a need at the big league level, he got the call.
Now, however, Castro is back, and he’s in Spring Training healthy, so the likeliest outcome is that he’ll start the season at second in the majors, with García back in the minors, at least to start the season.
Early this spring, the infielder, who’d played shortstop for the most part in the minors before he was called up last summer, has seen a lot of time at short. Why?
“He was a guy that we transitioned over to second base,” manager Davey Martinez said in a Zoom call with reporters earlier this month. “We just want to get him back over there. He’s a guy that we look for if something happens with Trea [Turner], that he can possibly play over there in a small stint. So just to go out there, and just be athletic, and relax and do it. He’s done it before, so just want to get him back over there and get him comfortable with that position.”
When García spoke to reporters on Thursday morning, he said he was happy to play where he was told to depending on what the club needs.
“I love everything about playing shortstop. I grew up as a little kid playing that position and feel very comfortable, and I feel like I play very well. I love the position, the long throws,” he said, through translator Octavio Martinez on a Zoom call on Thursday morning from West Palm Beach, FL.
“Second base, I do the same. I enjoy the position, it’s a shorter throw, but I enjoy that and I embrace the position as well.”
“He’s very familiar with shortstop,” Martinez explained.
“He’s played it his whole minor league career, we made the transition with him to second base and he took to that too. So the ability for him to play both sides of the infield like that helps us out tremendously in the long run.
“We said if per se something happens to Trea and we need someone to back him up we know Luis can do the job.”
Will he embrace the idea of continuing his development in the minors this year if the club decides that’s where he’ll start the season?
Will it be tough to return to the minors after a taste of big league life last year, even if it was under COVID protocols?
“No, it would not be difficult at all,” García said. “I’ve always told myself that I’m going to control what I can control and everything else that I can’t control I’m not going to worry about. I’m here to help the team any way I can, to help them win. So that’s one of those things that it’s not going to be difficult for me if that were to happen.”
Given that the Nationals brought him up last season, and continue to talk about him as part of the future in the organization, is there confidence that he’ll be back up eventually?
“I feel — there’s been this confidence that has grown in me,” he said.
“I trust my game. I know that I can play at any level, so wherever I’m sent to play and help the team win, that’s what I’m going to try to do the best, and give the best of my ability.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue because I’m always going to try to be in a position to help the team win any way I can and give the best of myself as well.”
The attitude he’s taking when it comes to his potential future sounds like it could be taken, at least in part, from the lessons he’s learned working closely with Castro again this spring.
“What stands out about him is just confidence,” García said of the veteran infielder.
“His willingness to help the team out any way possible. He has this energy, and this desire to help the team, win and bring another World Series championship to this area.
“It’s just the way he helps the team out and shows his confidence on the field and is willing to just help us all win.”
Castro and Turner have apparently embraced the young infielder as well.
“We have a great relationship,” García said.
“It feels like we’re brothers, like we’ve known each other since little kids. They teach me a lot, they’re always on top of me about the game, the situations, they’re always embracing me, so I’m always learning from them.”
García was the youngest player in the majors last season, playing out the year at 20 years of age after his birthday in May, and though it didn’t occur to him then how rare it was, he said it has dawned on him since that it is not a common thing.
“I hadn’t realized it really, then I’ve been thinking about it and realized how rare it is. I try not to focus on that, but every now and then I do reflect and think about basically how rare it is that I’m up here at this level at this age.”