For many players, Spring Training means nothing more than getting up to speed again. Hitters getting their timing at the plate and pitchers building up their arms for the season ahead.
For others, they are in battles for playing time and need to impress to earn their spot as a regular in the lineup or on the bench.
One such player who came into camp looking to win a job for the Washington Nationals was Luis García.
Last season, García slashed .242/.275/.411 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 70 games. Most of those games came at second base after the team’s trade deadline sell-off, allowing them to take a longer look at the 21-year-old infielder in the majors to see how he would fare.
There were bright spots for sure. García flashed more power than he had at any point in his career to that point, and he was able to make plenty of great defensive plays in the field.
But the bad also followed. Despite making some of those great plays in the field, management also saw mistakes creep into his defense, and with the bat, he lacked the consistency that the team would like to see from one of its potential foundational pieces.
But surely on a team in a rebuild, or retool as the Nationals insist on calling it, it could be a good time to keep playing García in the majors to work out the kinks, right?
Well, based on how the Nationals have approached the offseason and Spring Training, it doesn’t appear as though that’s their current thinking.
Over the course of the offseason, the team added a bunch of veteran middle infielders. First, Alcides Escobar returned to the team on a one-year deal, then right before the lockout, they added César Hernández, also signed up for one season.
As soon as the ink dried, Hernández projected to take over as the everyday second baseman, squeezing out of the spot that García primarily occupied last season. And while García has played plenty of shortstop in the minors, that spot appears to be taken too.
“Alcides is going to play, he’s going to get the bulk of the playing time,” Martinez said earlier this week. “Right now, he’ll get the bulk of the games at short, and then we’ll go from there.”
That’s played out during the team’s first few Spring Training games. In three of the Nats’ first five games, Martinez has penciled Hernández and Escobar into his lineup as the middle infield duo.
That’s often a pretty telling sign that the Nationals’ skipper wants them to work together up the middle, getting their timing down for double plays, and sizing up each other’s range.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement when, in a season where the Nationals should be focused on development, the team is leaning toward a 35-year-old who has a .259/.295/.347 career slash line and had spent two and a half years out of major league baseball prior to 2021.
There’s still a chance that García could impress Martinez and the coaching staff to earn a starting job on the team, but they clearly want to see more before handing him the reins.
“We’ve got to really understand that Luis is still very, very young,” Martinez explained. “He’s learned a lot, he’s been learning, he’s maturing.”
“He’s going to get an opportunity. But we’ll see, I mean, if he comes to Spring Training, and like I said, he limits the mental mistakes, throwing the balls, his footwork, we’ll see where he’s at. But, Alcides did well last year and he really helped our club.”
So, with Escobar and Hernández seemingly set to be the primary starters at shortstop and second base respectively, García is likely to start the year at Triple-A to get regular playing time.
That’s always been the franchise’s modus operandi when it comes to their top prospects. If there’s not a spot for them to play pretty regularly, then don’t keep them up to warm the bench, let them play regularly in the minor leagues.
“I want to make sure that Luis, when he’s in the big leagues, that he’s going to stay,” Martinez reinforced. “I really don’t want him to platoon, I want him to play every day.
“He did a lot better last year against left-handed pitching, which is good, so I want to see him consistently do the little things every day.”
That time, however, doesn’t appear to be the start of this season, based on how the team has handled García and the rest of the middle infield so far this spring...