WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- No hint of delusion follows when 18-year-old Luis Garcia says he wants to be the next Juan Soto. Context matters there. Garcia wants to emulate where Soto does his work more so than what he does at the plate, though mimicking a stunning run as a teenager in the major leagues would be more than acceptable. Contributing in any manner would be fine, as long as it’s happening at the major league level. That’s the idea Garcia wants to replicate.
Everything is nicer in the majors, and Garcia keeps receiving these little tastes. Last season, he and Carter Kieboom represented the Nationals at the Futures Game in Nationals Park. Garcia used the home clubhouse in his organization’s home stadium. By that time, Soto had surprised the baseball world via his swift ascent from Single-A Potomac to the middle of Washington’s lineup. Garcia wondered what it would be like to spend each home game in the clubhouse with its wide lockers, underground batting cages, and advanced treatment area.
“I was very, very excited to be part of that event and enjoy the whole scenery,” Garcia told NBC Sports Washington through interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I enjoyed the moment and the fact that I was able to partake in the clubhouse and everything, the clubhouse of the big-league team I played for. So that was very exciting. And I just told myself that one day, hopefully, I can be the next Juan Soto and just do it every day and be contributing here and helping the team.”
A bond has formed between Garcia, who will turn 19 on May 16, and Soto, who turns 21 on Oct. 25. Sharing the Dominican Republic as home became the first step. They signed with the Nationals within a year of each other. Their frames are similar. They even look alike once settled into the left-handed batter’s box, their right foot turned up on its toes before a swing is delivered. The slight age gap and last season’s rise has put Soto into a big brother role. Despite both being in their first major league camp, it was Soto who brought Garcia along to gather his meal money distribution, surprising manager Davey Martinez.
“I’m looking at Soto, I said, ‘Hold on a second. Isn’t this your first spring training?’” Martinez said. “He started laughing, ‘No, no, no. I ask questions.’ I said, ‘All right.’”
Soto laughs, too, when asked about his shepherding of Garcia. The No. 3 prospect in the Nationals organization was among Soto’s first calls when Washington brought Soto to the majors last season. Nowhere is the dream of making it to the big leagues dreamed harder than in the Dominican Republic. When a friend makes it, a small part of you makes it, too.
Garcia’s youth and infield work earned him a nickname Soto likes to call him by: “Trompo.” A trompo is a wooden spinning top popular in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Spain, among other places.
“I see him, I see a lot of talent on him,” Soto said. “He always play the baseball a little bit crazy. We got in the Dominican, [a] man make videos for YouTube, he called [Garcia] ‘Trompo Loco.’ Trompo crazy. When he get here, he plays the ball a little bit crazy, make crazy plays. So, we call him Trompo. That’s why we started call him like that. My relationship with him is really good. I always talk with him. Sometimes I tell him no you got to do that, you got to do that; he’s a good learner.”
Garcia smiles at the nickname, revealing his braces, which are among the indications that he is just 18 despite his decent size (6 feet, 190 pounds). He was the youngest player on an Opening Day roster in either Class A league (full or advanced) last year. When he made his debut for Potomac, Garcia became the first player born in 2000 to play at the Class-A advanced level.
He hit better as he progressed from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2017 -- .717 OPS in his age-17 season -- to Hagerstown (.737) to Potomac (.750). He played third base two years ago before operating more in the middle of the field last year.
“I feel like I play a very good second base, but I feel like I am more of a natural and I feel more comfortable at shortstop,” Garcia said. “Hopefully, that’s where they give me an opportunity. I feel like I can do a good job at shortstop. But wherever they need me and wherever I can help the team, that’s where I want to play.”
Garcia’s path to the major leagues currently has roadblocks unrelated to his results. Trea Turner is entrenched at shortstop. He remains under team control until 2022. Brian Dozier signed in the offseason to play second base for a year. Carter Kieboom, the Nationals’ second-best prospect, is also a middle infielder. He’s likely to start the year at Triple-A Fresno.
Which puts Garcia a few spots back in line. For now, he’ll enjoy the big league life on the other side of the clubhouse from Soto. Garcia wears No. 63 and is huddled among the minor-leaguers temporarily invited to the fancy side of operations in West Palm Beach. He hopes someday soon to be back in Nationals Park. At that time, he envisions “Trompo” and Soto pulling on their uniforms together next to Victor Robles, the Nationals’ kids on the come up.
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