Nationals Spring Training Update: Who's Giving Chase at Second Base?

The job that has for years belonged to Luis Garcia Jr. by default is much more up-for-grabs than many outsiders might think.

Sep 11, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Washington Nationals second baseman Luis Garcia (2)
Sep 11, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Luis Garcia (2) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Garcia Jr. has been a core piece of the Nationals' middle infield since 2020. Aside from a few stretches of time, Garcia has been an everyday player for Washington at either second base or shortstop. One of those spots has been filled by CJ Abrams, and perhaps now the other is slipping through his fingers as well.

The funny thing about the Nationals is that since winning the World Series in 2020, they've lacked true veteran presences in their lineup. No, I don't mean token journeymen who have been there and done that around the league. I'm talking about players who have had considerable success and who you can count on to be productive on a relatively consistent basis.

This lack of any real stability has granted some young players more opportunities than they would receive from most other teams.

That's certainly true for someone like Victor Robles, who was once thought of as one of the league's best prospects and a potential superstar, but has been "just a guy" for half a decade in the big leagues. It also applies to Carter Kieboom, who has proven virtually nothing, yet somehow finds himself in a significant role year-over-year.

But what about Luis Garcia Jr.? Sure, we've seen some flashes, but has he really shown any true consistency?

Garcia has certainly shown himself to be incapable of playing shortstop. He's also only stolen 13 bases in 24 attempts across 325 major league games played. He's batting a respectable .265 in his big league career, but his on-base percentage is below .300. And despite the alleged power potential he has, he's only hit 24 home runs – and only nine in 122 games last season.

That's not even to mention the concerns Dave Martinez and perhaps others in the organization have about his work ethic and preparation. Being fun and care-free can be refreshing, but not if the tradeoff is underwhelming on-field performance.

So what are we really left with? An average at best second baseman who can't play anywhere else and, given the number of big league games he's played, is likely approaching the point at which he's only going to be what he's been, with limited potential to improve considerably? At what point do you have to cut your losses?

I know, that's somewhat of a double standard, considering all of the chances Victor Robles has gotten, but bear with me!

For the first time since Garcia debuted, there seems to be a plethora of young infielders with some upside rising through the minor league ranks. Jake Alu reached the majors last year – albeit with limited success once he arrived – and prospects like Brady House and Trey Lipscomb aren't far away.

To be clear, I would be surprised if House advanced beyond Triple-A (and maybe even Double-A) before the second half of this season, but Lipscomb may very well be knocking on the doorstep. After all, despite being new to second base, he's received some starting reps there during Spring Training thus far – and he's producing. Not to mention he won the Minor League Gold Glove Award last season for his performance at Third Base.

I don't necessarily expect Darren Baker to compete for a starting job in the near future, because there seems to be limited upside with him, but stranger things have happened. In all likelihood, Rule 5 draftee Nasim Nuñez will break camp with Washington, and even if he doesn't hit much, he has great speed and his glovework is sensational. Imagine the range a pairing of Nuñez and CJ Abrams up the middle would provide!

If House were to arrive sooner than expected (or if the Carter Kieboom experiment takes place again), Nick Senzel could also see some time at second base. And let's not forget Ildemaro Vargas, either. He's far from the flashist option of this bunch, but he's mostly likely making the roster as one of those fake "veteran presences" I mentioned earlier.

Suffice it to say, Luis Garcia Jr. cannot rest on his laurels this spring. More than at any point thus far in his career, there is legitimate short and long-term competition for his second base job. If the club had questions about him before, those will only become amplified if the Nationals brass begins to see legitimate in-house alternatives. After all, he's been benched in favor of subpar options in the past.

The experts still think it's his job to lose. I'm less certain of that. In fact, I predicted recently that he will lose it, if he hasn't already.