The Nationals announced Wednesday that they’ve recalled infielder Luis Garcia from Triple-A Rochester and placed shortstop Alcides Escobar on the 10-day injured list due to a strained right hamstring. Manager Dave Martinez tells reporters that Garcia will be the everyday shortstop moving forward (Twitter link via Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). Washington also optioned righty Francisco Perez to Rochester and recalled southpaw Evan Lee from Double-A Harrisburg for what will be his Major League debut. Talk Nats first reported that both Garcia and Lee were headed to the big leagues (Twitter links).
Garcia, who turned 22 last month, has too much big league experience under his belt to technically qualify as a “prospect” anymore, but he’s still a key young player whom the organization hopes to install as a core player. Signed as a 16-year-old amateur back in 2016, Garcia was in the big leagues by 20 years of age and has already accumulated 386 Major League plate appearances, albeit with an underwhelming .254/.285/.395 slash line to show for it.
However, Garcia was a consensus top-100 prospect heading into both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and his work so far in Triple-A illustrates the reason evaluators have been so bullish on the young middle infielder. Through his first 42 games (193 plate appearances), Garcia is hitting .314/.368/.531 with eight home runs, six doubles, four triples and a stolen base. His 17.6% strikeout rate is well below the current average, and he’s drawn walks at a respectable 8.3% clip as well.
It’s the second straight season of huge Triple-A production for Garcia, who hit .303/.371/.599 in 159 Triple-A plate appearances a year ago. That didn’t translate into big league success when he tallied 70 games in 2021, but he’d hardly be the player to struggle in the Majors at such a young age before piecing it together as he continues to develop.
It’s easy to argue that the Nationals should’ve had Garcia in the Majors awhile ago. Escobar, one of several veteran minor league signees on whom the Nats have relied in the infield this year, hit just .220/.264/.288 prior to his IL placement. Maikel Franco is fourth on the team in plate appearances despite a .258/.284/.376 output, though the magnitude of his role is due in no small part to Carter Kieboom’s Tommy John surgery. Dee Strange-Gordon has managed a .315/.315/.370 output in 54 trips to the plate, but his most recent productive MLB season came back in 2017.
Whether this was the plan or not, it’s worth pointing out that enough time has passed that Garcia can no longer reach two full years of Major League service time this year. He entered the 2022 campaign with one year and 37 days of service time, meaning he needed 135 days on the active roster or Major League injured list to reach two full years. As of today, there are 126 days remaining on the regular-season calendar. Had Garcia reached two years of service in 2022, he could have potentially been eligible for free agency after the 2026 season. The earliest he can reach the open market now is post-2027.
Of course, all of that is dependent on whether Garcia is able to solidify himself at the Major League level, which he has thus far been unable to do despite multiple auditions. Had the Nats truly been concerned about his free-agent trajectory, they probably wouldn’t have fast-tracked him to the big leagues and let him accrue a full year of service before he even turned 22.
As for the 24-year-old Lee, he’ll be tabbed to start this afternoon’s game against the division-leading Mets. He’s had a nice start in Harrisburg this year, pitching to a 3.60 ERA with a strong 29.4% strikeout rate but a more problematic 11.9% walk rate. MLB.com ranks Lee 17th among Nats farmhands, while Baseball America lists him 20th in the system. Both scouting reports on Lee praise his low-90s heater and a potentially plus curveball while noting that his lack of a third strong offering creates some risk that he’ll eventually land in the bullpen. Lee was a two-way player at the University of Arkansas and is thus still relatively new to full-time pitching, so there’s perhaps a bit more room for development than one would expect out of most soon-to-be 25-year-old pitchers.