“Before we start talking about this,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters when he discussed the club’s decision to option 23-year-old infielder Luis García to Triple-A early this past August, “I still strongly believe that Luis is a big part of our future, I really do.”
García was optioned following a rough stretch for the 23-year-old infielder, who was 0 for 12 in his previous four games, coming off of a .217/.250/.301 month of July in which he’d hit just two doubles and one home run.
“There’s some consistency stuff that we want him to work on,” Martinez explained.
“We want him to do it without having to worry about putting up numbers and [things of] that nature. He does a lot of things well. We think he can get better. So this is really about him and the future of our organization moving forward.
“I really believe Luis here is going to help us win games, and hopefully he’s here when we get a change to win another championship.”
García, who signed out of the Dominican Republic (for $1.3M) in 2016 and debuted in the majors as a 20-year-old in 2020, spent time at Triple-A in 2021 and ‘22, and the Nationals’ decision-makers decided he needed to refocus and work on both his preparation and his consistency.
“He’s 23 years old,” Martinez added. “I wanted him to go down and work on some things, especially more consistency out of him in his total game, preparation, routine, things of that nature. So he gets a chance to go down there, reset his feet a little bit. As soon as he shows us he can do that, we’ll bring him up. But he’s got a tremendous amount of skill, he really does. He has great bat-to-ball skills, his hands really work defensively. A lot of it, what we want him to get better at is using his lower half both hitting and on the field, so he’s got to work on that stuff while he’s down there.”
Martinez was clear at the time García wasn’t the only young player they’d talked to about their daily routine and preparation.
García’s double play partner in D.C. needed to tweak some things at one point.
“Well, we talk about another young kid we have right now that changed his routine in CJ Abrams,” the Nats’ skipper said. “And it’s helped him out a lot and he’s playing a lot better. So that’s kind of what we want from Luis. Just routine, consistency, preparation, and that’ll help him become more consistent on an everyday basis.
“Up here, this in an everyday job. If you want to play up here every day, you got to be ready to play every day and that’s what we want him to learn.”
A reporter noted the obvious difference that Abrams, who turned 23 earlier this month, was able to work things out at the big league level, so why did García get sent down to Triple-A?
“He’s turned it around up here,” Martinez said.
“CJ has turned it around up here, and he’s done really well. A lot of it had to do with, too, Luis just kind of trending in the same direction. And like I said we want to slow him down a little bit. We didn’t want to put pressure on him. Luis takes a lot of pride in his hitting and his playing. I felt like he was trying to put a little bit of pressure about trying to get hits. It’s not always about getting hits. It’s about being prepared, giving yourself a chance to swing the bat and put a good swing on a baseball every day, positioning, things of that nature.
“So we thought for Luis, this would be the best thing for him right now. And like I said, we really believe he’s going to help us again, but we kind of have to slow him down a little bit and get him back on his feet and start doing the little things.”
While a decision like the club made could potentially shake a young player’s confidence, the manager thought García accepted the club’s decision.
“He responded exactly the way I thought he would,” Martinez said. “He was there yesterday. He was already in the cage working. Like I said, he wants to get better. He really does. He wasn’t happy where he was at, either. He tells me all the time he expects to hit .300, expects to drive the ball. I really believe this will help him. And he’s taking it the right way. And like I said, he was down there already yesterday working.”
After 25 games and 108 PAs over which García put up a .268/.315/.381 line, eight doubles, and a home run, the young infielder was called back up, with GM Mike Rizzo, in his weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, explaining the club’s thinking in optioning their infielder.
“It was a preparation assignment,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “We wanted him to go down there and learn a routine, and learn how to prepare for each and every game in the big leagues.
“He went down there and has really tightened up his time in the weight room, his time in the batting cage, his time in the video room. He’s really gotten himself in great shape, he’s lost several pounds, which was one of the things that we wanted him to work on when he got down there.
“He’s working with our hitting coordinators and our hitting coach down there in Triple-A, and really took a good attitude down there and looked at this as something of an opportunity in a less competitive environment to really get his game under wraps, and he’s done a great job there.”
Rizzo hinted at the time, before García came back up a week into September.
“We’ll see him soon in the big leagues playing second base for us every day because we think that he’s a big part of the future of this thing. He’s only 23 years old and has got a bunch of at-bats at the big league level under his belt with some success, and we just need him to be consistent, be consistent in his game, in his preparation and how he attacks being a major leaguer.”
“He went down there and did everything we asked him to do,” Martinez said once García got the call once again.
“Looks great. He was playing a lot better, playing with a lot of intensity, showing up early to the ballpark, getting all his work done. Really trying to hone in on just one swing.”
Martinez explained at the time how García struggles were playing out on a day-to-day and even at-bat-to-at-bat basis before they sent him down.
“The biggest thing for him is that every day he was changing — different batting stances, where his hands go, so we are still going to work with him on just finding one particular swing and work with that and see if we can get him going consistently.
“But I’m proud of him. He went down there and did all the things we asked him to do. He’s going to get an opportunity again to play here, at least I know for sure against right-handed pitching. But if he does well we’ll stick him out there, but I told him, I said, ‘You got to be engaged on every pitch, of every game,’ so we’ll see how he does.”
Seeing García make the adjustments the club wanted him to make, and take the decision to send him down as an opportunity to do necessary work made an impression on his skipper.
“It means a lot to me,” Martinez said. “I have all the faith in the world [in] Luis, and I say this all the time, he’s still a big part of our future, but I want him to understand that he needs to do the right things every day. Even when things are going bad hitting-wise he needs to play good defense. He needs to be engaged. He needs to play second base every day the way we ask him to play it.
“But I think he understands that, he worked really hard to get better, and hopefully that hard work pays off up here.”
“I can’t say that initially I was very happy with the decision,” García said, as quoted by MASN reporter Mark Zuckerman, once he’d returned to the majors.
“More, I guess, I didn’t understand it. But on my drive to Scranton [where Rochester was at the time]… I started just kind of thinking about it and realized that it’s part of the game to help me, so that I can improve in certain aspects of my game. And I looked at it that way. And I went down there to work, and it’s a learning experience. And I feel like I did that, but I’m back up here trying to just do what I can to finish strong.”
Once he returned, Martinez was asked how they could keep García from pressing when it didn’t go his way at the plate.
“Again, the biggest thing is to be where your feet are, you know, and I told him that. I said, ‘You can’t control your last at-bat, you control what you do right now in this very moment, so understand that and learn by your mistakes, and move on and get better,’ Martinez said.
“My biggest thing as I alway tell those [guys], ‘If you can do one thing a game to help your team win, then to me you had a successful day.’ If we can get 26 guys to do one thing every day, we’re going to win a lot of games. And I want you to understand you don’t have to go 4 for 4 to have a great a day. Whether it’s a walk, whether it’s turning a double play, getting a successful bunt down. Whatever it may be, if you can do something to help our team win, that’s awesome, and do it consistently and you’re going to play here for a long time.”
García finished his ‘23 campaign with a 22-game run over which he put up a .304/.360/.507 line, five doubles, and three home runs in 75 PAs.
Source: Federal Baseball