García dazzled at times, but still has a lot of room to grow

Our offseason player review series continues today with Luis García, who unexpectedly became the Nationals’ starting second baseman ahead of schedule.

PLAYER REVIEW: LUIS GARCÍA

Age on opening day 2021: 20

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2016

MLB service time: 105 days

2020 salary: $563,500 (prorated $140,175)

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2024, free agent in 2027

2020 stats: 40 G, 139 PA, 134 AB, 18 R, 37 H, 6 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 1 CS, 5 BB, 29 SO, .276 AVG, .302 OBP, .366 SLG, .668 OPS, 78 OPS+, -4 DRS, -0.4 fWAR, -0.3 bWAR

Quotable: “The kid’s a player. He loves to play the game. He goes up there, he works good at-bats, he battles. You watch him, he’s pretty smart. All you’ve got to do is tell him once where to play, and he’s got it. You don’t have to move him around.” - Manager Davey Martinez on García

Garcia-Swings-Gray-Sidebar.jpg2020 analysis: García didn’t come out of nowhere. The Nationals had been touting the explosive young infielder since signing him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for a cool $1.3 million. But he wasn’t supposed to be starting every day in the big leagues yet, not like this.

The 2020 season, though, created some opportunities that might not have been possible otherwise. When Starlin Castro broke his right wrist on a diving play in the field on Aug. 14 in Baltimore, the Nats didn’t hesitate to call García up from their traveling taxi squad and throw him directly into the lineup less than an hour later. The thinking: The 20-year-old was their best option at that point.

Given the circumstances, García held his own pretty well. He enjoyed some big-time moments on the big stage, going 6-for-17 with a double and a homer in his first four games. He had 11 multi-hit games during his six weeks in the majors, three of those three-hit games. He launched an extra-inning homer off Rays reliever Nick Anderson to win a game in September.

Which isn’t to say García didn’t look overmatched at times, because he did. He went 1-for-23 in late-September as his batting average plummeted from .318 to .269. He didn’t show a lot of patience at the plate. He made some careless mistakes in the field. Obviously, much of that was to be expected for a rookie with so little experience thrust into this situation. But it was a reminder that not every top prospect the Nationals promote can do what Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman did right out of the chute.

2021 outlook: The Nationals face a real quandary with García heading into next spring. With Castro returning from his injury, the spot in the lineup García held won’t be available. Unless the club decides he deserves to start over Carter Kieboom, either at third base or potentially at second if Castro moves to the hot corner.

That would be some kind of bold pronouncement by the Nats, revealing not only what they think of García but also what they think of Kieboom. Thing is, García still has had precious little experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues. He would’ve opened the 2020 season at Double-A Harrisburg and perhaps finished at Triple-A Fresno under normal circumstances. There’s reason to believe he would be best-served getting more seasoning in a low-pressure environment in 2021.

García notably tries to mimic his good friend Soto, right down to his batting stance. But the 20-year-old doesn’t have anywhere close to the 22-year-old’s plate discipline, and that’s something he’s going to have to learn sooner or later. The good news is that García does share Soto’s penchant for driving the ball to the opposite field. That’s a good trait for such a young hitter.

There’s plenty of reason to be excited about García’s long-term prospects. The club just might need to wait a little while longer to see it in action.

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