García made strides at plate, proved better at second base


Age on opening day 2023: 22

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2016

MLB service time: 1 year, 164 days

2022 salary: $700,000

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2024, free agent in 2028

2022 stats: 93 G, 377 PA, 360 AB, 29 R, 99 H, 23 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB, 4 CS, 11 BB, 84 SO, .275 AVG, .295 OBP, .408 SLG, .704 OPS, 102 OPS+, -17 DRS (at SS), 4 DRS (at 2B), 0.0 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR

Quotable: “It’s very important to me. I’ve always worked toward finding consistency up here and thank God I’ve been able to do that since I’ve been up here and kept working. I’m going to keep working to stay as consistent as possible.” – García, via interpreter Octavio Martinez

2022 analysis: The Nationals sent García to Triple-A to begin the season, understanding he would be promoted if and when he showed he could make adjustments at the plate and become a viable defensive shortstop after spending most of the previous two seasons at second base. Two months later, with a .308 batting average, .885 OPS and improved (but hardly smooth) play at shortstop, he was called up and thrust into the everyday lineup.

García's offensive success from Rochester did translate to the big league level for the most part, though it came with plenty of ups and downs. He hit .327 in June, then fell to .227 in July, then back up to .327 in August, then slipped to .241 in September/October. He was best when batting at the bottom of the lineup, hitting .352 in 29 games as the No. 7, 8 or 9 hitter, compared to .284 as the No. 1 or 2 hitter and only .210 as the No. 3, 4, 5 or 6 hitter.

Defensively, García proved not to be a capable, everyday shortstop at the big league level. Routine plays became hold-your-breath plays. Above-average plays were few and far between. But then came the trade for CJ Abrams, and after García missed two weeks with a groin injury, he returned to the active roster Aug. 26 and became the Nationals’ everyday second baseman the rest of the way.

García proved far more adept on that side of the diamond, showing better footwork, making better throws and speeding his game up to keep up with the quick Abrams as his double play partner. By season’s end, he looked like at least a solid second baseman, with the potential for more improvement.

2023 outlook: Is García the Nats’ long-term answer at second base? The jury’s still out on that. But given where they are in their rebuild at this point, there’s no doubt he’ll enter 2023 as the starter there and hope to solidify his standing for the long term.

The Nationals don’t need him to be an elite defensive player. They just need him to make the plays he needs to make. Then they need him to hit enough to justify his place in the lineup.

García is a contact hitter, there’s no getting around that. He doesn’t draw walks, and there’s little reason to believe he’s suddenly going to change in that regard. He has good bat-to-ball skills, and he’s capable of taking a pitch well out of the strike zone and poking it to the opposite field for a single. Nothing wrong with that.

What García needs to do, though, is become more selective. He swung at 40 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, one of the highest rates in the majors. Even if he makes contact on some of them, many of them turn into weak ground balls, as evidenced by his low average exit velocity. When he gets a pitch in (or near) the strike zone, he hits it hard. If he can focus on picking the right pitches to swing at - ideally fastballs, not breaking balls - he can cut down on that chase rate and produce quality at-bats with more consistency.

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