Much of the season wound by without positives to go with it. The Nationals as a team slid to the bottom of the National League. No fans, no success, plenty of letdowns.
Luis García was among the few positives. His forced arrival into the major leagues dumped him into a sink-or-swim situation. If the Nationals were in the middle of a 162-game regular season when Starlin Castro broke his wrist, the replacement hunt may have gone differently. Instead, García became the everyday starter at second base in what Davey Martinez deemed a perfect situation: a short, fanless season allowing room for García to learn.
He finished with a .668 OPS, committed the fourth-most errors at second base despite playing just 40 games, and looked his age, 20, more than once.
García also showed a key skill to last in the major leagues – frustration control. It was the reason García was allowed to work through his lulls at the major-league level instead of being sent to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg.
“With García, he comes up here, he puts the ball in play,” Martinez said in early September. “You can tell he has no fear. He strikes out, he doesn’t carry it on the field. Just goes out there and plays and has fun. …If I saw something different, then it would be a different conversation with [Mike Rizzo] and I. But we think he’s doing OK. He’s learning. We’re going to keep running him out there.”
García doesn’t see a reason to be afraid of being in the majors — it’s what he always wanted. He would dream about it and talk it out with his father. Playing Major League Baseball meant you arrived at the end of the rainbow. Asked why he lacks fear, García said he and his dad would chat about players arriving in the big leagues, then find it strange they were afraid in a place they always wanted to be.
But that doesn’t absolve García of the large amount of work in front of him.
He was in the bottom two percent in exit velocity in 2020. His walk percentage was in the bottom three percent of the league. His chase percentage was above 30. He hit a ton of ground balls because he often topped pitches when making contact. All of which makes his offseason improvement list a vast one.
Martinez laid out a program for García that included everything from quicker feet to being a better baserunner. Playing Winter Ball is a consideration. Martinez said he thinks García can hit 12-15 home runs if he “stays in his legs” as a hitter, which he didn’t do much of in 2020. García’s bat-to-ball skills are partly a detriment for him. He can make contact with most pitches, a process which prompts him to swing often. However, the outcome is often mediocre contact.
“Sometimes he gets very handsy,” Martinez said.
All of this should bring García back to the minor leagues. Assuming next year is normal, or close, the logical process for García will be coming to major-league spring training before being assigned to the Triple-A affiliate shortly before spring training ends. Starlin Castro remains under contract for a mere $6 million to play second base during a season in which the Nationals are adamant about returning to an upright posture and competing for a postseason spot — at a minimum. He will be the starter while García’s learning continues elsewhere. In time, if he can improve his approach and defense, it will be García’s turn every day at second base.