We switch gears now in our previews to the offense and check in with how Luis García’s spring training was going before the shutdown.
Um, yeah, it was going really well.
The left-handed swinging García was hitting the baseball consistently to begin 2020. The 19-year-old shortstop slashed a stunning .417/.462/.542 in 15 big league games, with one homer and four RBIs. García is listed as the No. 97 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com’s preseason rankings.
As one might expect, García and others gravitate towards another youthful sensation in 21-year-old Juan Soto around the batting cage to get the most out of each at-bat. Soto was more than happy to talk shop with García, helping him with his set up and swing.
“All those guys, especially Juan, watching him around the cage - now he’s no longer a rookie, he’s kind of a leader,” said Nationals minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich. “Guys know how special he is, so it’s kind of like it was with (Bryce Harper) and Anthony (Rendon). They end up watching Soto do his routine, his cage work, and they just watch see what he does that is so successful. And Juan will talk to anybody about hitting - minor league guys, coaches, players on the team. He’s that special of a human.”
Gingrich, who has worked with Nats hitters since 2013, said García has amazing hands similar to Rendon. The Nats focused in camp on adding power to García’s swing to get him to really drive the ball.
“We got with him on a daily routine of just getting his lower half involved more,” Gingrich said. “He is really, really good with hand-eye coordination, getting the barrel to the ball. He can hit a lot of pitches in the zone. But we got to incorporate his lower half, too. Get him a little bit more connected and we got to get him more patiently aggressive in the strike zone. The real big focus was getting his power half involved along with his hands in his swing.”
García has that unique asset of quickness in his hands. But the coaching staff wants the 6-foot-2, 190 lb. infielder to now add his lower half, his legs and core to the swing like Soto does.
“Because he trusts his hands so much, a lot times, his lower half will shut down and it will just be a handsy swing,” Gingrich said of García. “We are trying to get his legs involved more, to be more connected with his hands to be able to drive the ball a little bit more. So once he’s able to get his legs and hands working connected, he’s going to start driving balls. He’s very athletic and he’s very handsy. With him, we are just trying to get him fully rotated with his backside through the baseball. Once that happens, holy cow, this kid is pretty special.”
One way the Nats get García to emulate a swing like Soto’s is through the use of side-by-side video comparisons.
“That’s how we started it the first day,” Gingrich said. “We went in there and compared him (to Juan Soto’s swing), because he loves Juan obviously. So we threw him up there next to Juan and he could see the difference in how Juan uses his lower half compared to how (García) uses his lower half. He focused hard on this. He had one of the longer routines in big league camp.”
García spent extra time each day figuring out how he could employ his lower half. The intense focus paid off as camp got going.
“His routine probably lasted close to 20 minutes a day,” Gingrich said. “He hit a lot in spring, which is a good time because there is no pressure or anything. He knew he wasn’t going to make that team, but he knows what he has to got to do to be an everyday big leaguer.”
Gingrich said it makes his job easy when he sees young hitters, whether they are stars now or stars in the future, who want to get better each at-bat, every single day of spring training. So not being able to play baseball right now during the coronavirus pandemic is a frustrating pause when normally they would be unleashing an entire offseason of preparation.
“Those kids - Soto, Victor Robles, García - they just love playing baseball,” Gingrich said. “That’s what’s awesome. All three of them are probably pissed off right now that they aren’t even allowed to do anything. That’s just how much they love their sport. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are not a lot of kids who love the game like that, like it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
García demonstrated this spring he has the talent to be a very good hitter in the big leagues. Like all of his teammates and the rest of the baseball world, he’s now just waiting for the moment when he is given the all clear to return to the field.