- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The more Luis Garcia played for the Washington Nationals last season, the more confident he felt. He watched his peers — such as Trea Turner and Juan Soto — and saw how they shook off mistakes in an instant, remaining level-headed through the ups-and-downs of a major league game.

Garcia has always felt confident, ever since he was a little kid. But playing 40 games for the Nationals as a 20-year-old reinforced that, as did his .276 batting average. He told himself he was just playing baseball, the same game he always played, even though he competed at the Double-A level the year prior.

Garcia’s performances in Starlin Castro’s stead — who broke his wrist shortly into the campaign — convinced the Nationals they have a player for the future. When the future arrives is another question, one Washington isn’t rushing into.

He’ll have a chance to make the opening day squad, but more than likely Garcia will begin the 2021 season in the minors, waiting for another chance to impressive in the big leagues.

“We got to remember [with] that one, he’s so young and he’s still developing,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He did well for us last year in a short period of time. We’re talking about 162 games now.”

Even if Garcia winds up in the minors to begin the season, the second baseman said he won’t mind. He’s more focused on controlling what he can control, so he spent this offseason adding into his game some of the advice Martinez left him.

While Garcia produced standout moments in his debut season — such as a go-ahead two-run homer in the 10th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in September — Martinez saw room for improvement with his plate discipline, speed and agility.

Garcia struck out in 20.9% of his plate appearances in 2020. And he swung at 35.5% of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone, which is about 5% above league average, according to FanGraphs. He struck out 29 times and walked five times.

“We talked a lot about balls in the strike zone with him,” Martinez said earlier this month. “We often joke around with him, but he worked a pretty good walk [March 4] and I told him, ‘That’s good, that’s baby steps.’ He’s working on it.”

During winter ball, Garcia made strides with his movement. Martinez noted in early March how Garcia made several nice plays in the field, such as an unassisted double play. He also chased down a fly ball in foul territory.

Washington has mixed Garcia in at shortstop, too, the position he grew up playing. He featured three times there in 2020, recording one error in nine defensive chances. But if Garcia proves himself at both second and shortstop, that could boost his chances of a call-up at some point this season.

“I love everything about playing shortstop,” Garcia said through a translator. “I grew up as a little kid playing that position, and I feel very comfortable and feel like I can play very well there. I love that position, the long throws. Second base, I do the same. I enjoy the position. It’s a shorter throw but I enjoy that, and I embrace the position as well.”

The Nationals know Garcia is a player for the future, with the performances in a shortened 2020 campaign to back up his potential. Washington isn’t in the business of rushing Garcia to the big leagues, though, not when he could receive more concentrated playing time in the minors.

“The future is bright for him with us, and we know he’s going to help us here whether it’s the start of the season, early in the season, middle of the season, but you’ll see [Garcia] with us sometime soon,” Martinez said. “But we got to remember that we’re still developing these guys, as well.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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