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Juan Soto has arrived. Who’s got next among Nationals prospects?

Who is next in line behind Juan Soto? (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Welcome back to Minor League Monday, our weekly look at the goings-on around the Nationals’ affiliates.

Juan Soto was supposed to be a member of the next generation of Washington Nationals prospects. He was supposed to be the one to arrive after Victor Robles, a few years away from becoming a staple here. He is, after all, still a teenager.

But Soto has established himself in the majors and is playing like someone determined to stay. So after Soto and Robles — both familiar, both probably major league ready when healthy — who’s next? Who is the next great Nationals position-playing prospect? One candidate: Class A Hagerstown infielder Luis Garcia.

Juan Soto was supposed to be two years away, but he’s shown he belongs right now

Before delving into his candidacy, a caveat: The entire premise of this inquiry might be unfair. In Robles and Soto, the Nationals have two elite position-playing prospects in their system that are 21 and under. Both seem likely to be staples of the Nationals outfield for some time, assuming both stay healthy. Many franchises do not generate two prospects of their caliber in a decade and would be grateful to do so. But this franchise has had more success in developing elite position players.

Garcia, who just turned 18, might be the next one. The Nationals signed him as part of their bank-breaking 2016 haul, paying him $1.3 million, the third-most they’ve ever committed to an international signee. They signed him as a shortstop, the second-highest-profile shortstop in that signing class. They paid his current teammate Yasel Antuna $3.9 million, the biggest bonus they’ve ever paid an international signee.

Antuna is on track to become an elite prospect, too. He is 18, a few months older than Garcia, and both are among the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Antuna is hitting .207 with 54 strikeouts in 198 at-bats, numbers that are perfectly reasonable for a teenager in his first season in full-season A ball.

Garcia struggled in his first month at Hagerstown, too — .198 in April. Neither he nor Antuna had ever played much in the cold before, and while that ceases to be an excuse for older Dominican players, it does represent a significant adjustment for younger ones. Garcia and Antuna had played one season in the Gulf Coast League before joining Hagerstown this season. Neither had ever had to play much baseball in a sweatshirt.

As the weather has warmed, so has Garcia, who bats left-handed — a rare talent for a potentially powerful middle infield type. He hit .371 with a .970 OPS in May and has not slowed much in June. Even with that abysmal first month, he ranks in the top 15 in the league in hitting. He struck out 15 times in 97 May at-bats while hitting two homers, two triples and five doubles.

That showing likely will not earn him a promotion to Class A Potomac soon. He has never played a long season of professional ball. He has yet to experience the rigors of a full professional baseball season. He is still finding challenges in Hagerstown. But he is impressing there anyway, one of several big-name prospects on the Suns roster with Antuna and 2017 first-round pick Seth Romero.

Both Garcia and Antuna fit the Nationals’ traditional international signing profile. Both played up the middle when the Nationals signed them, meaning they have enough athleticism and coordination to play just about anywhere. Garcia has played 27 games at third and 21 at shortstop this season, but the Nationals have also gotten him work at second. Antuna has played 40 games at shortstop.

Potomac shortstop Carter Kieboom is ahead of both of them in terms of on-field and off-field development. He is finding his offensive stride after a slow start to the season. But internally, the Nationals consider all three legitimate infield prospects — meaning they have depth from which to deal at the trade deadline, should they decide they need to do so.

In the meantime, they will keep an eye on Garcia and Antuna, both of whom are years away — both of whom could be a part of the next generation of elite prospects to come through this system, if all goes well.

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