As the Nationals wrap up their West Coast road trip by starting a three-game series tonight in Anaheim, we took a look at some of the headlines back east on the farm system on the “MASN All Access Podcast.”
Kyle Glaser, a national writer for Baseball America covering the top prospects in the country, joined Amy Jennings and me on the show to discuss some of the top names on the Nationals farm.
We started with the big question surrounding the Nats, which was also the main focus of the episode: When will Luis García get the call back to the majors?
García, a graduated former top prospect, is raking at Triple-A Rochester, while Nationals shortstops have floundered at the big league level.
The 21-year-old infielder is slashing .351/.406/.649 with a 1.055 OPS, five doubles, three triples, six home runs, 16 RBIs and nine walks in 23 games with the Red Wings. He went 2-for-4 with a triple and a home run while scoring both runs of a 2-0 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees) last night.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old Alcides Escobar is slashing .197/.256/.224 with a .480 OPS in 22 games with the Nats. Lucius Fox, who only recorded two hits in 28 plate appearances over 10 big league games, was optioned to Rochester on Tuesday after Dee Strange-Gordon returned from his rehab assignment and was reinstated to the active roster.
“Yeah, it's really good to see,” Glaser said of García’s hot start at Rochester. “You have to remember he's 21 years old. It feels like he's been around for a while. He got called up early and I think a lot of people kind of jumped ship a little bit just because he struggled like he did and had to go back to Triple-A. But realistically, for his age, this is the level he probably should be at.”
García did struggle during his limited action in the majors over the last two seasons. In 110 games, he slashed .254/.285/.295 with a .680 OPS, 18 doubles, two triples, six homers, 22 RBIs, 11 walks and 43 strikeouts. But now we’re seeing him start to develop into a more mature player.
“We're seeing him just continue to grow into more strength, add some more power,” said Glaser. “He's always been a really good player who doesn't strike out a lot, has a really nice feel for contact. Now we're seeing him get stronger, and the results are coming at the age you expect them to. I really do think it's only a matter of time before he comes back up to Washington. And I think now we'll see him possibly be ready to really get there and stay there and ultimately take over a starting spot now and for years to come.”
So what’s keeping García at Rochester instead of Washington?
The Nationals have insisted they won’t bring him up until they believe he’s fully ready to handle everyday shortstop duties. They have César Hernández playing second base (a position García had success playing in the majors) and earning $4 million this year. García is a natural shortstop and that’s where the organization sees him playing long-term, the heir apparent to Trea Turner.
García did struggle in the field to start the season, with four errors over his first five games. But he hasn’t committed one since April 9, even though reports say he has benefited from some lenient scoring.
As for Escobar, he has committed five errors at short on the season, with all five coming over his last four games. And they have been costly, leading to a five-run fourth inning in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Rockies and a four-run second inning in Thursday’s 9-7 loss.
You have to wonder if the Nationals are trying to avoid another Carter Kieboom situation, in which they brought up a prospect before he was fully ready, saw him struggle in the major leagues and now have questions about his future with the organization.
They envision García as their shortstop of the future, so they’re counting on the cautious approach.
It should also be noted that this doesn’t seem like a situation where the Nationals are trying to manipulate the young player’s service time. It does feel like they are waiting until they can fully trust him in the field.
It’s fair to question why García is being held back from the majors while the Nats get little to no production at the shortstop position. But the Nationals’ patience could pay off in the long run for the young slugger. At least that’s what they’re hoping.
Other minor league notes from this week:
* Brady House was placed on the injured list with an undisclosed injury at low Single-A Fredericksburg on Wednesday. The Nats' No. 2 overall prospect will be unavailable for the Lynchburg series this weekend.
House has been on a tear to start the season, hitting .326 with five doubles, two homers, 24 RBIs and 10 walks in 21 games. Unfortunate news for the Nats' first-round pick from last year. More on him with Glaser coming Monday.
* The good news out of Fredericksburg was that right-hander Jackson Rutledge was reinstated from the IL on Wednesday. He made his 2022 debut Thursday in the first game of a seven-inning doubleheader against Lynchburg. Rutledge pitched three innings with seven hits, five runs, two walks, three strikeouts and one home run on 59 pitches, 39 strikes.
The Nats' No. 4 ranked prospect and former first-round pick was limited to 13 starts and 36 1/3 innings in an injury-plagued 2021 season.
* Cole Henry, the Nats' No. 3 overall prospect, had a weird, yet solid start with Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday against a Bowie lineup that featured top Orioles prospects Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg. Henry gave up just one run and one hit while striking out four but walking five in 2 2/3 innings. He threw 69 pitches, but only 34 for strikes, an unusual lack of control for him. He had issued only four walks coming into the outing.
Henry's ERA now stands at 0.57 through five starts.
Matt Cronin, the Nats' 13th-ranked prospect, pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief while the Harrisburg bullpen kept Bowie scoreless in a 6-1 win.
Listen to our full conversation with Glaser on the “MASN All Access Podcast” and check back throughout the weekend for more minor league updates.