PLAYER REVIEW: LUIS GARCÍA
Age on opening day 2022: 21
How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2016
MLB service time: 1 year, 48 days
2021 salary: $570,500
Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2024, free agent in 2027
2021 stats: 70 G, 247 PA, 236 AB, 29 R, 57 H, 18 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 0 SB, 2 CS, 11 BB, 43 SO, .242 AVG, .275 OBP, .411 SLG, .686 OPS, 86 OPS+, 1 DRS (at 2B), minus-3 DRS (at SS), minus-0.2 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR
Quotable: “He’s made some highlight plays, and he’s had some concentration lapses. He’s 21 years old. I had some concentration lapses at 21. So we’re going to give him a little break on that. But he’s a terrific young talent that we just have to put our arms around and just be patient with him, like with a lot of the young players.” - general manager Mike Rizzo
2021 analysis: Luis García always figured to be part of the Nationals’ plan this year. It was just a matter of when it would happen and in what capacity. Turns out it happened quite differently than most would’ve expected, though the end result was fairly encouraging.
Destined for Triple-A when the season began, García actually did make the opening day roster, only because of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak. He saw minimal action that first week, mostly playing behind veteran infielder Hernán Pérez, and was among the first players sent down once others were cleared to return. There were two more brief call-ups in May and June, but it wasn’t until the final week of July that García was brought back to stay and was finally given a chance to play every day.
The 21-year-old would start 56 of the Nationals’ final 62 games, almost exclusively at second base, and he flashed some real signs of progress along the way. Over his final 29 games, he hit .277/.296/.482 with 12 doubles (tied with Jose Altuve and Whit Merrifield for most in the majors during that span). García also showed real progress against left-handers, batting .297 (19-for-64) and slugging .453 off them in the big leagues this season, a continuation of the success he had at Triple-A prior to his final promotion.
In the field, García was at times spectacular, but at times lackadaisical, resulting in eight errors in 59 games at second base but 1 Defensive Run Saved. He also wound up missing the season’s final weekend with an oblique strain.
2022 outlook: García has never been considered an elite prospect the way Juan Soto or Victor Robles was, so the ceiling isn’t as high in his case. But the Nationals certainly saw enough this season to be intrigued by what he could become over time, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t put him right back at second base to begin 2022 and see how much more he can develop.
For García to become a bona fide everyday player in the big leagues, though, he’s going to have to become a more consistent player in every aspect of the game. He tries so much to model his game after his good friend Soto, and he would be wise to mimic the young star’s best quality: full engagement in every single plate appearance.
García doesn’t draw walks - his 4.5 percent rate ranked 344th out of 362 big leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances this season - so he’s got to learn some patience. The good news is that he doesn’t strike out much, either, only 17.4 percent of the time (well better than the major league average). The best thing he could do is be a bit more selective after seeing only 3.44 pitches per plate appearance.
In the field, it’s all about staying engaged all the time. We know García can make the highlight-reel play. He needs to prove he can make all (or, at least, the overwhelming majority) of routine plays, too, and not be caught sleeping. Better footwork would help, but so would better focus.
If he can do all that, García could have a bright future with the Nats. He probably won’t be a top-of-the-order hitter in a good lineup. But he could provide some pop from lower in the order and play good defense at second base. Nothing wrong with that.