After spending the first two months of the season in Triple-A, the 22-year-old shortstop prospect was recalled by the Nationals ahead of Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets. Garcia was called up to replace Alcides Escobar, who sustained a right hamstring strain on Tuesday night.
Garcia spent most of 2020 and 2021 in the big leagues, appearing in 110 games with the Nationals in those two seasons. He hit .254 with 38 RBIs across his two seasons, showing increased power last year with 18 doubles and six home runs in 70 games.
“It made sense, because we have a shortstop on the [injured list],” general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters at Citi Field, per MASN. “We thought he was very close, and when Escobar went down it made it a fairly simple decision to make.”
Nationals manager Dave Martinez said before the game that Garcia will be the team’s everyday shortstop during his time with the big league club. Whether he will be sent back down to Triple-A once Escobar is healthy is unknown, but it could depend on how Garcia performs in the next few weeks.
“He’s the best available guy we’ve got, so we’re going to give him the opportunity,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play every day. I told him: ‘Some days I’ll bat you seventh, some days I’ll bat you eighth, but you’re going to play shortstop every day.’ We’ll see how he does.”
Garcia started at shortstop and was the Nationals’ No. 7 hitter in a 5-0 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Garcia went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts and played a clean game in the field. He said before the game that he’s more “relaxed” now than he was the past two seasons.
“You come in here just a little more confident, a little more relaxed,” Garcia said before the game, according to MASN. “I do think that will really help.”
Washington entered the series against New York winners of four of its last five, but the Mets swept the Nationals (18-34), who didn’t score in the final 21 innings of the series.
While Garcia improved in 2021 and showed potential, the Nationals chose to take it slow with the youngster as the organization entered its first season fully embracing a rebuild. He dominated Triple-A competition with Rochester this spring, hitting .314 with a .531 slugging percentage thanks to six doubles, four triples and eight home runs in 42 games. Garcia also tallied 39 runs scored, 32 RBIs and 16 walks out of the No. 3 hole in the lineup.
The biggest question mark for Garcia is his defense. He mostly played second base with the Nationals last season and compiled a below-average .955 fielding percentage. In 11 career major league games at shortstop, he made three errors.
In Triple-A this season, Garcia made eight errors for a .931 fielding percentage. But after recording four miscues in his first five games of the season, Garcia went 26 games before committing another error.
“The biggest thing for me is his footwork and using his legs to throw the baseball — finding that good arm slot and using his legs. That’s something we have to stay on him about,” Martinez said. “Sometimes he plays the game a different way. He’s got all this energy. But he’s got to make sure he’s consistent with what he does.”
In April, as Escobar was struggling mightily at the plate and Garcia was raking in Rochester, general manager Mike Rizzo said on 106.7 The Fan that the Nationals are taking it slow with Garcia to ensure that he’s “prepared” to be an everyday shortstop in the majors.
However, by keeping Garcia in the minors longer, they also gained a year of team control of him. Garcia entered the season with a little over 1 year of service time, and even if he remains with the team for the remainder of the season, he won’t eclipse the 172 days necessary for 2022 to count as a full season. The Nationals now have control of Garcia through the 2027 season.
“[Shortstop] is where we want him to play,” Rizzo said. “We bounced him around last season, playing second base and shortstop, and at the big-league level it was almost exclusively second base. He’s learning to play shortstop at a high level in Triple-A.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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