Nationals Foster Luis Garcia, Evan Lee


Nationals Foster Luis Garcia, Evan Lee

The Nationals announced Wednesday that they have recalled the infielder Luis Garcia by 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 Garcia will be daily shortstop moving forward (Twitter link via Jesse Dougherty from the Washington Post). Washington also chose Righty Francisco Perez to Rochester and recalled southpaw Evan Lee by Double-A Harrisburg for his major league debut. Talk Nats first reported that both Garcia and Lee would go to the big leagues (Twitter connections).

Garcia, who turned 22 last month, has too much big-league experience to technically still qualify as a ‘prospect’ but he is still an important young player that the organization is keen to use as a regular. Garcia, who was signed as an amateur in 2016 as a 16-year-old, was in the big leagues by 20 and has already amassed 386 major league plate appearances, albeit with an overwhelming .254/.285/.395 slash for that.

However, Garcia was a consensus top 100 prospect going into both the 2019 and 2020 seasons and his work in Triple-A to date shows why evaluators were so optimistic about the young midfielder. In his first 42 games (193 plate appearances), Garcia hits .314/.368/.531 with eight homers, six doubles, four triples and one stolen base. His 17.6% strikeout rate is well below the current average, and he’s also been pulling walks with a respectable 8.3% clip.

It’s the second straight season of huge Triple-A production for Garcia, who scored .303/.371/.599 in 159 Triple-A record appearances a year ago. That didn’t translate into huge success in the league as he played 70 games in 2021, but he would hardly be the player to struggle in the majors at such a young age before putting it together as he progresses.

It’s easy to argue that the Nationals should have had Garcia in the majors a while ago. Escobar, one of several veteran minor league signers the Nats have relied on in the infield this year, hit just .220/.264/.288 before his IL placement. Maikel Franco is fourth on the team in plate appearances despite a .258/.284/.376 performance, although the size of his role is in no small part due to this Carter Kiboom‘s Tommy John Surgery. Dee Strange Gordon has output .315/.315/.370 in 54 trips to the plate, but his last productive MLB season came in 2017.

Whether that was the plan or not, it’s worth noting that enough time has passed that Garcia can’t get two full years of service in the major leagues this year. He entered the 2022 campaign with a year and 37 days of service, meaning it took him 135 days on the major league active list or injured list to reach two full years. As of today, 126 days remain in the regular season calendar. Had Garcia achieved two years of service in 2022, he might have been eligible for free agency after the 2026 season. He can reach the free market after 2027 at the earliest.

Of course, all of that depends on Garcia being able to cement himself at major league level, which he has failed to do despite multiple auditions. Had the Nats been genuinely concerned about his free agent career, they probably wouldn’t have propelled him quickly into the big leagues and given him a full year of service before he even turned 22.

As for 24-year-old Lee, he’ll be called up for this afternoon’s game against the division-leading Mets. He got off to a good start this year at Harrisburg, posting a 3.60 ERA with a strong 29.4% strikeout rate but a more problematic 11.9% walk rate. ranks Lee 17th among Nats farm workers, while Baseball America ranks him 20th on the system. Both scouting reports on Lee praise his low 90s heating and a potential plus curveball, while noting that his lack of a third strong offer puts him at some risk of eventually ending up in the bullpen. Lee was a two-way player at the University of Arkansas and as such is still relatively new to full-time pitching, so there’s perhaps a little more room for development than one would expect from most soon-to-be-25 pitchers.

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