Alcides Escobar fouled a pitch off his knee in an August 30th matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies this past summer, so Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez decided to shift Luis García over to shortstop for the rest of that game, which García started at second, and the manager was asked the next day how he evaluated the 21-year-old infielder at each of the positions at this point in his career.
García, signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3M in 2016, has played predominantly at short in the minors on the way up, but with Trea Turner at short in the majors until this past July’s trade to the Dodgers, the young infielder played mostly second base when he came up after Starlin Castro suffered an injury in the 60-game season in 2020.
García spent most of the 2021 campaign at second base, moving up and down between Triple-A and the majors before the trade deadline, then played second, for the most part, after the July 30th sell-off kicked off the organizational reboot in D.C., with Alcides Escobar, who re-signed with the club this winter, after he was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the early days of July last summer, playing short down the stretch.
“He came up as a shortstop,” Martinez told reporters in talking about García in a pregame Zoom call this past August 31st.
“My biggest thing — he moves around pretty good over there — my biggest thing with him is his throwing from shortstop. He’s got a strong enough arm, obviously, but he gets a little erratic. His arm angle changes periodically. So it’s something that we got to work with him over there, and to stay in his legs a little bit better. He throws the ball and he never finishes, never goes towards his target where he’s throwing. He doesn’t use his legs.”
Martinez said his bench (and infield) coach Tim Bogar had been working closely with García to improve on the areas where they thought he needed help, with the biggest issue at short and second his footwork.
“The biggest issue with Luis at both second and at short, is his feet, and continuing to move his feet,” the manager explained.
“His feet got to work,” Martinez added, “... and like I said, it’s a process that we’ve talked to him about, we’re going to continue to work with him, but he’s got to continue to use his feet, and when he does that he’s really good. And he understands it, and it’s just a habit, and we’ve got to break him out of that habit, and we got to get him to use his feet all the time.”
A few weeks later, the skipper talked about where García was in terms his development at the plate as well, where he said he’d seen improvement, but still saw room for growth.
García put up a .242/.275/.411 line with 18 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 11 walks, and 43 Ks in 70 games and 247 plate appearances in the majors this past season, after he put a .276/.302/.366 line, six doubles, two homers, five walks, and 29 Ks up in 40 games and 139 PAs in 2020.
“It’s all about his pitch selection when he swings,” Martinez said. “He’s got to get the ball in the zone. When he gets the ball in the zone, he hits the ball really hard. He’s got to stay on the ball. I talk a lot to him about using the middle of the field. He’s really good when he does that, and that’s something that he needs to work on.”
Raising the possibility that García could continue his work in winter ball, Martinez said, “... if he does that I really want him to learn how to stay on the ball, and hit the ball up the middle of the field, and take pitches, and swing at strikes. That’s the biggest thing, is swing at strikes. We need him to get on base a little bit more, via walks, we don’t want him to lose his aggressiveness, but we want him to take his walks, and he’s really a high-ball hitter, very well, so we want him to get the ball up where he can drive the ball, that’s something that he can work on as well.”
Considering where he’s at in his career, age-wise, and skill-wise, Martinez said, García still has a lot to learn, but he’s also tremendously talented.
“He’s still learning,” García’s manager said, “he’s got tremendous upside and we know that.
“But yet, he handles himself fairly well.”
“I know he wants to get quicker with his feet, and he wants to work out, but it’s all about development, and the more he plays, the better he’s going to be.”
GM Mike Rizzo, talking to reporters on the final day of the regular season in October, said García will go to Spring Training this year with an opportunity to earn the second base job in D.C.
“I think that he’ll have every opportunity to be our everyday second baseman, he’s a good young player, he’s got great bat speed, and he’s got good power,” Rizzo said.
“He’s made some highlight plays, and he’s had some concentration lapses. He’s 21 years old, I had some concentration lapses at 21, so we’re going to give him a break about that, but he’s a terrific young talent, and we just have to put our arms around him and just be patient. Like a lot of young players.”
They did bring in some veterans too, however, with Escobar re-signing a few days after the season ended, and veteran infielder César Hernández signing a 1-year/$4M deal late in the month of November, prompting speculation at the time about how the club’s infield would shake out in 2022, since Hernández has played the majority of his games at second base in his career.
“García has ample minor league experience at shortstop and could conceivably kick back across the bag to accommodate Hernández while relegating Escobar to a utility role,” one of the writers at MLBTraderumors.com suggested. Will García start at second (provided he doesn’t struggle this spring and start in the minors) on the rebuilding ballclub and learn on the job in the majors? Was Hernández signed as insurance, a starter, or a utility man (since he has played second, third, and short (as well as the outfield) in his career)?
Where will Luis García start the 2022 season?
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