WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — CJ Abrams and Luis García spent spring training in proximity. They were in the same hitting group during batting practice and often shagged flyballs at the same time.
The Nats’ rebuild threw CJ Abrams and Luis García together. Now they’re ‘inseparable.’
“To be honest, it’s not something that usually happens,” García said through an interpreter. “That is why I think I’m more impressed about how it went from the get-go because it was almost like something just clicked. … It seemed like we’d just known each other forever.”
In August, when the Washington Nationals sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres for a package of six players that included Abrams, the move represented a shift. From then on, Abrams, the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft, was expected to be the Nationals’ shortstop of the future. That meant García, who had played there since he was called up in June, would move to second base.
Not long after they met, Abrams pulled García aside so they could get in extra work turning double plays and developing chemistry. Now they hold each other accountable so their connection off the field translates to the diamond.
That bond will matter for the Nationals, who are entering the second full season of an organizational reboot focused on player development. Along with a handful of other young players, they are at the center of the team’s future.
“They’re inseparable, so it’s awesome to watch their relationship grow the way it has,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “They got an opportunity to play together for a very long time here.”
“We always tell each other we’re going to be great,” Abrams said. “We’re going to do it together.”
San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic
When García was 3, his family moved from New York, where he was born, to the Dominican Republic. He and his parents lived a few blocks from his grandparents, and García grew up bouncing between the two homes.
His grandma would make his favorite foods: white rice with black beans and fried eggs. Plus, his grandparents had cable — he and his grandma would fight over the remote.
When he wasn’t with his family, he could be found in the neighborhood, playing sports on the streets with his friends. García always seemed to have a bat and a ball in his hands, but he didn’t learn the game until his dad took him to a baseball field. He idolized MLB standouts Nelson Cruz (who would become his teammate in Washington), Alexi Casilla, Carlos Gómez and José Reyes, among others.
Once García started playing baseball, his days filled up. He trained three to four times per week at the local fields or on a piece of land that his father owned. He started early in the day and ran drills all morning. He normally took a lunch break, then went to work out. He had a little free time and then went to play with his friends.
“I wanted to grow up to be like my dad and play like my dad,” García said. “ … So I was always more than willing to go out there and work out.”
Luis García Sr. made the major leagues but played just eight games before he suffered a career-ending injury in the minors. His son signed with the Nationals in 2016 and soon left the Dominican Republic to pursue his dream. When he returned after his first full minor league season, his dad had a surprise waiting for him: He had built a field within walking distance of García’s childhood home.
“When I go home, I usually have a tendency, the second day I’m home, to go out to the field or to just the neighborhood to say hi to friends,” García said. “So when I stepped onto the field and realized what he had done, it was very, very impressive.”
The field conditions weren’t great at first. Plus, there was a school behind the outfield, so they couldn’t hit the ball too far. But the field is bigger now, the ground is smoother, and there’s netting to keep onlookers and others safe.
García trains at the field often. The local kids, who now look up to him, practice with him. And his dad — along with his mother and wife — gives him all the encouragement he needs.
“He means a lot to me — something great,” García said of his father. “I don’t have enough words to give the full meaning of what he means to me and in my life.”
Johns Creek, Ga.
Abrams remembers staring at a fence, all of 96 feet away, at Newtown Park when he was 5 years old. He swung and connected with a baseball that his dad, Chris, had thrown. The ball sailed over that fence for his first home run.
“The first time he saw the ball go out of the park, I could tell [by] the look on his face that this is something he wanted to do for the rest of his life,” said Chris Abrams, who put the ball in a shadow box that remains in the family’s home — along with his son’s first major league home run ball. “He just lit up.”
Baseball was often all that Chris and Ruth Abrams needed to keep their son entertained. They would float between two parks in their Georgia community, practicing two or three times per day.
Abrams would hit until it was so dark that they had to stop because Chris couldn’t see the ball coming off his bat. Chris jokes that his arm is shot from throwing so much batting practice.
“I just had fun playing, had fun getting better. That’s probably why I made it here,” Abrams said. “Growing up, I’d kind of take [my dad] away from work sometimes. But, yeah, he would always make it work anyway he could.”
Chris looked for any edge he could find for his son, sometimes finding unusual ways for him to train. He linked two PVC pipes with a chain like nunchucks and had Abrams hit Wiffle balls. He came up with contraptions to help him see the ball better. Abrams said his dad still has all the gadgets but noted, “I can’t even name them all.”
No matter whether they helped, Abrams became a top high school prospect. When he showed up for the first game of his senior season at Blessed Trinity Catholic High in 2019, he couldn’t find anywhere to park in the school’s normally empty parking lot. He realized why when he got to the field — 60 scouts were crowded around the batting cage to see him hit.
After Abrams was drafted by the Padres, he had one request: a backyard batting cage. His dad hired a crew to level the ground. The result was a 60-foot inflatable batting cage with turf and lights so Abrams could hit whenever he wanted. Inside the cage is a shed that contained a soft-toss machine and a pitching machine nicknamed “The Beast” — as well as all of Chris’s old gadgets.
Now the kid who grew up playing until night fell in Georgia and the teenager whose father built him a field in the Dominican Republic play together under the lights at Nationals Park. García came into spring training wanting to be more agile; the Nationals hope that improvement, in addition to better pre-pitch preparation, will help him improve defensively. His bat has always been his stronger suit, but he also needs to cut his chase rate.
So does Abrams, who wants to work on attacking pitches in the strike zone instead of chasing pitcher’s pitches. Defensively, he has focused on his footwork.
During another season in which the Nationals will prioritize player development, strong years from Abrams and García could solidify their place in Washington’s future.
“Coaches are one thing, but your player and teammate is another thing,” Nationals third base coach Gary DiSarcina said. “Whether CJ feels like he doesn’t want to let Luis down or Luis feels like he doesn’t want to let CJ down, that’s the camaraderie you want to build. That’s the relationship I’m looking forward to watching.”