Luis García has a path back to the majors after Carter Kieboom's demotion

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Matt Weyrich
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Luis García has a path back to majors after Kieboom demotion originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Nationals entered spring training hoping Carter Kieboom would cement his place in their starting lineup. Seventeen Grapefruit League games and a .133 batting average later, Kieboom has been optioned to Triple-A and the Nationals are turning to a Plan B at third base.

“I don’t want to put any limitations against Carter,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said on a Zoom call Sunday. “If we kept him and we decided to just play him against left-handed pitching, I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do. We want him to play every day. We want him to go down there to [the Alternate Site in Fredericksburg] and just get tons of at bats...just go down there and work on his swing, revamp his swing and when he’s ready and we deem that he’s ready, he’ll be back in the big leagues with us.”

For now, Plan B appears to be Starlin Castro playing either second or third base with Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Hernán Pérez vying for starts across from him. Harrison, the only member of that trio to start the spring with a major-league contract, appears the favorite to get first crack at nailing down an everyday job.

It’s unlikely any of them will provide enough offense to warrant a spot in the lineup once the Nationals get going. Harrison impressed the Nationals enough in his 33-game stint with the club last season to earn a new deal, but his .606 OPS over the previous two years doesn’t bode well. Neither Mercer nor Pérez have been much better, leaving a potentially gaping hole in the Nationals’ lineup.

“When we got Josh last year, I knew of him for many, many years, I knew what he could do, he was an All-Star, he was hurt, and I knew that,” Martinez said Friday. “He spent about a year and a half — had a wrist injury, so I felt like if he got healthy and that wrist got good, he’s a good player, and you can see that now, he’s fully healthy and he can do a lot of different things...I definitely can see him playing more than once, twice, or three times a week, so I love having him on this team, like I said, he can do so many different things.”

That hole could eventually be filled by Kieboom, should he show some progress at the plate in the minors. However, it’s difficult to justify placing Kieboom higher on the organizational depth chart than Luis García, who reached the majors at 20 years old last season and hit well in spurts. García was also sent to Triple-A Rochester with Kieboom, allowing him to get everyday at-bats rather than ride the bench in D.C.

Should the Nationals’ crop of utility men fail to click, García would represent an intriguing option at second base. Washington saw both the highs and lows of his game in 2020. A fringe top-100 prospect last offseason, García made flashy plays with the glove but also had six errors. At the plate, he was hitting .318 going into the final week of the season before closing out the year with a 3-for-27 stretch.

The only other infielder on the 40-man roster is 21-year-old switch hitter Yasel Antuna. He’s the consensus top position player prospect in the Nationals’ minor-league system now that Kieboom and García have exceeded their rookie limits. Though he’s capable of playing all over the diamond, the Nationals have no reason to rush Antuna to the majors — he still has yet to play a game above Single-A.

Washington could decide to add a player from outside the organization, but there aren’t many available options that have higher upside than García.

Veteran third baseman Todd Frazier recently opted out of his contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates while utility man Jedd Gyorko went all of spring without signing a deal. After that, the Nationals would have to get creative with any potential additions. If no one within the Nationals’ system takes hold by midseason, they could be candidates to trade for a third baseman such as Kris Bryant, Eugenio Suárez or José Ramírez.