PHILADELPHIA — Ever since Luis García was promoted June 1, he and third base coach Gary DiSarcina have rarely been apart. DiSarcina trains the club’s infielders. García has spent the past two months playing shortstop, a plan hatched by the front office amid a season focused more on development than winning. The pair often have played catch in the outfield, tweaking García’s arm slot; stood on the infield dirt, discussing the finer points of footwork; and watched video of Francisco Lindor and Brandon Crawford together, giving the 22-year-old examples to study.
Then they usually have shown up and done it again.
But at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, Manager Dave Martinez wanted García to relax a bit, using him only as a late-game pinch hitter in a loss. Soon, whenever shortstop C.J. Abrams joins the Nationals, García could have a new defensive assignment, shifting back to second base. The Nationals view Abrams — one of the six players netted this month for Juan Soto and Josh Bell — as their shortstop of the present and future. The 21-year-old’s looming promotion will alter García’s trajectory again.
“He’s already been over there taking groundballs just in case we do bring Abrams up here,” Martinez said of García playing second. “… And all of our infielders have actually been taking groundballs throughout the infield now, so it’s kind of nice. I want them to move around and just get used to taking groundballs in different positions.”
What prompted that?
“Because we’re going to have a lot,” Martinez answered. “. . . Hopefully we’ll have some guys come up here. [Ildemaro] Vargas being able to do everything with C.J. coming up here one of these days — he’s going to play some short, and we want Luis to play some second. César [Hernández] has played everywhere in the past, so I told him, ‘Just get used to playing all three infield positions.’ I want to keep these guys going and keep them flexible.”
So the ripple effects of Abrams’s arrival don’t end with García. If García moves to second full time, a distinct possibility, Hernández could go from a regular to a utility player off the bench. Third base, manned by Maikel Franco for much of the season, might become a rotating cast of Franco, Vargas and Hernández, depending on who is shipped out to make room for Abrams on the active roster. But the development of Abrams and García, and whether they can mesh as a double play combo, will be a major focus for the Nationals down the stretch.
Despite being signed as a 16-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, García has mostly struggled at the position. Of those who have played at least 400 major league innings at shortstop in 2022, he ranks second-to-last with minus-13 defensive runs saved, a catchall defensive metric. Throwing has been the biggest issue for García, who made his 12th error of the season Sunday. He often catches the ball, hesitates, takes an extra step and then throws with screwy footwork, hurting his accuracy.
Even many of the plays he makes are shaky and a chore for the first baseman. The last two months, then, show why moving García to second is probably best for his future as well as the Nationals’, not just a way to maximize Abrams’s value. García has impressed at the plate some, entering the week with a .290 batting average, a .296 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage. He had walked just twice in 224 plate appearances, a concerning number, yet pairs a swing-happy approach with good contact ability.
Abrams, listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is both more agile and more athletic than García. Abrams did make a pair of errors in his debut with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, botching a grounder and then throwing wide of second from the ground after a diving stop. And while some scouting reports question his hands and arm accuracy, he should supplant García after a rocky experiment at one of the most important positions in the field.
With the Padres this season, Abrams made 28 starts at shortstop — replacing the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. — six at second and one in right field. The Nationals, though, are more likely to stick him at short, a significant hole since Trea Turner’s departure, before testing Abrams’s defensive versatility.
“I come here every day to try to help the team win in any way possible, just play as well as I can,” García said Sunday, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, when asked about switching positions again. “I’ve played second base the last two years. I feel comfortable there. So if that time comes, I think I’ll be comfortable.”