Sending infielder Luis Garcia back down to Triple-A was one of the toughest decisions Dave Martinez had to make this spring.
His reasoning was simple: Garcia needed to improve his overall consistency in the field, and he felt that there was enough middle infield talent on the big league roster to allow Garcia’s development to come in Rochester instead of Washington.
Garcia’s a month shy of 22 years old, so it’s not as if keeping him in Triple-A is holding him back. But he certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove offensively, and he’s also trending favorably as a defender.
He’s Succeeding in Triple-A
Sure, Garcia hasn’t hit spectacularly in the major leagues yet, but in 49 games in Rochester across the last two seasons, he’s hitting .323 with a .986 OPS – which, if the minors tracked such metrics, would give him approximately a 180 OPS+, 80 percent better than league average.
This season, Garcia is batting .377 and leading the league-wide Triple-A level with 20 base hits.
Garcia hasn’t been bad defensively, either. He’s committed four errors in 12 games (10 at shortstop and two at second base), but they all came in his first five games of the season. Since then, he’s been much more steady.
The Coaching Disparity
The idea of making a player earn a promotion – which is what Martinez seems to favor in relation to Garcia – sounds great, but it’s also an incomplete thought. Coaching is better at the major league level, so if a player has the tools to be good offensively and defensively, they’ll typically benefit more from big league coaching.
Garcia would likely learn more from Darnell Coles and Pat Roessler than Brian Daubach, the hitting coach in Rochester, and Gary DiSarcina is a well-respected infield coach who could improve Garcia’s fielding. That doesn’t even take into account that Martinez was a long-time position player in the majors, whereas Matthew LeCroy (the manager in Rochester) was a journeyman catcher and has a more pitching-oriented mentality.
What About the Veterans?
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez was pretty clearly signed this offseason to be flipped at the upcoming Trade Deadline. He hasn’t hit for power or drawn walks yet, but as long as he can be at least a .260, defensive-minded singles hitter, he’ll keep playing every day until late July. Once he’s gone, though, the job could easily transition directly to Garcia.
Alcides Escobar’s fate is less certain. He’s continued to play well at shortstop, but he’s offered no production at the plate. Shortstop is also where Garcia has gotten the bulk of his Triple-A reps this season, although it may not be where he profiles long term. There’s certainly a path to him playing there, though, especially if Escobar’s bat continues to stay silent.
There’s even an outside chance that Garcia could draw some starts at third base. The position would be new to him, and it’s also where Carter Kieboom has typically been stationed, but it’s a less-premium position than shortstop and Garcia appears to have a sufficient arm to play it. The biggest roadblock might be Maikel Franco’s hot streak in the batter’s box, but he offers very little defensively and will likely also be gone before the end of the season.
Shake it Up!
It’s been well profiled that the bottom of the lineup hasn’t provided much production. Lane Thomas and Alcides Escobar are hitting below .200, and Victor Robles is 1-for-21 from the batter’s box. Garcia is a .254 hitter in 110 major league games, and that was as the youngest player on the field in nearly every game he played.
Keeping Garcia in Rochester for too long might not be sending the best message to young players, either. When players succeed to the extent that Garcia has, they should be rewarded – especially when the major league roster is littered with marginal talent.
There’s a benefit to building up the trade value of some players, but let’s not turn the 2022 Nationals into the 2021-22 Wizards! Players with the best combination of short and long-term upside should be the ones who take the field. Right now, that probably includes Garcia.