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Nationals prospect Luis Garcia wants to be 'the next Juan Soto'

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Nationals prospect Luis Garcia wants to be 'the next Juan Soto'

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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Ryan Zimmerman on electronic sign stealing: ‘It’s the greatest sin that you can do’

Ryan Zimmerman on electronic sign stealing: ‘It’s the greatest sin that you can do’

When the Nationals faced the Astros in the 2019 World Series, the public didn’t yet know Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scheme helped propel the club to its first championship just two years prior.

But less than two weeks after Washington beat the AL West champs in seven games and claimed a World Series title of their own, The Athletic reported that Houston had in fact been using a live camera feed to steal opposing catchers’ signs and report them back to their hitters in real time by banging on a trash can behind the dugout.

Although Houston was only found to have used the scheme in 2017 and not against Washington this past October, the Nationals changed up their signs frequently and used plastic cards to create intricate sets of signals that could be alternated from inning to inning or batter to batter.

Recently re-signed first baseman Ryan Zimmerman spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday just a few hours after the team made his new one-year deal official. When asked about his thoughts on the Astros scandal—one that has also stretched to Boston, where the Red Sox are being investigated for an alleged scheme they carried out in 2018—Zimmerman took a definitive stance against people within the game who use technology to steal signs.

“I think first and foremost, the integrity of our game and any professional game is the thing that matters the most,” Zimmerman said. “Rules are put in place to guard the integrity of the game for people to enjoy it and for just the fairness of play. I think any time that is compromised, people should pay the ultimate price.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred dealt significant penalties to the Astros, fining them for the maximum $5 million, stripping them of their first- and second-round picks for the next two years and suspending manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for one year. Astros owner Jim Crane held a press conference later that day and announced the team would be firing both Hinch and Luhnow outright to give the organization a clean slate to move forward.

However, critics of the ruling have pointed out that none of the players involved were held responsible for their actions. Only Carlos Beltran, who had been hired by the Mets to be their next manager but was let go after the findings were released, was mentioned in the commissioner’s report at all.

“Sign stealing and things like that have been a part of baseball for a long time,” Zimmerman said. “Technology, obviously, makes it easier and there’s always a line about how much you can use it, how much you can’t. I think the players and the field staff and the video people have to use their moral judgement and their respect of the game to know how much is too much.

“If there’s a camera in center field in real time giving people what pitch is coming, that’s obviously crossing the line. I don’t think you would find anyone who would disagree there.”

The Nationals and Astros share a Spring Training facility in Florida. Although the players themselves occupy opposite sides of the complex and won’t see each other too much, national reporters on the Grapefruit League tour will have plenty to write about when they pass through West Palm Beach.

“I don’t think there’s any place for it in the game,” Zimmerman said. “I think mostly that the players would respect the game enough to not partake in that stuff and then moving up from there the managers, the field staff, front office people, would obviously stop it if they saw it.

“There’s reports that it wasn’t handled like that in Houston. I don’t know enough about it to really comment on it but all I can say is obviously I think it’s completely wrong when you start messing with the integrity of the game in any aspect. It’s the greatest sin that you can do.”

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Ryan Zimmerman knew this was the Nationals’ plan all along

Ryan Zimmerman knew this was the Nationals’ plan all along

One of the easiest negotiations in baseball history concluded in about 10 days once other issues were resolved.

Some semantic adjustments were needed, but there was no major haggle over money or intent. Length and cost of contract were a breeze to determine. Ryan Zimmerman knew he wanted to be back. The Nationals wanted him back. This was clear during the season, shortly thereafter, then sealed with ink Tuesday after Zimmerman, 35, passed his physical.

The process was so anticipated, Zimmerman worked out as if the deal was complete. He maintained his regular offseason schedule, though not officially being under contract allowed him to stop pucks from Alex Ovechkin and hop a ride in a jet fighter without the worry of contractual compromise. Eventually, everything he said in public -- that his return was imminent if left only to him -- turned out to be true.

“I think everyone said how bad of a negotiator I was,” Zimmerman said on a conference call Tuesday. “But at this point of my career, there’s really nothing to negotiate. Like I said during the year, it’s not about money anymore. It’s about playing another year and being with this group of guys and being part of a really good team again. That’s exciting. We have a chance to do something special again. Obviously last year was an incredible year, and it was fun for everybody involved. But once spring training starts, we’re going to have to focus on this year. We have another good team again.”

Zimmerman walks into his 16th season in a different position than any in the past. He will platoon at first base with left-handed Eric Thames. He went from one of the team’s highest-paid players to one of its lowest. Zimmerman anticipates 250 to 300 at-bats if his fellow elders hold up and split time as the organization hopes. Another chance to win -- a lot -- made the decision to prepare and play again easier, even in a reduced role.

“I think I’d like to start off by saying it’s nice that we have an ownership group that doesn’t do rebuilds,” Zimmerman said. “I think the rebuild is so dumb, for lack of a better word, this is the big leagues. You’re supposed to try and win. Anyway. ...The Lerners give us a chance to win every single year. They spend money. They put their resources into the big-league team and it shows. We’ve made the playoffs I don’t know how many years out of the last seven or eight years, won a world championship last year and I think that’s the way teams should be run at the big-league level. That should be the goal.

“But, yeah, knowing that we have another good group coming back...I think the chance to win is great, but also the group of guys. The character that we have, how much fun it was last year; knowing the core group is coming back, that made it a lot easier, as well. And just the fact that I don’t think I’m ready to stop playing yet. I love getting ready in the offseason. I love putting the time in now to prepare myself for the seven-month season. I think once that starts to dissipate a little bit, I’ll have to really reconsider. The game is the easiest part right now. It’s all the stuff after the game or the offseason where you really have to work your butt off to get ready. You know, when you don’t really want to do that anymore, then it will be time to reconsider. But I still love doing that, I enjoy the competition and I look forward to how this new role goes and I’m excited about it.”

As for the golf? There will still be time for that in Florida. Zimmerman, for now, remains more concerned about his baseball preparation, which was all the easier knowing he didn’t have to worry about a contract despite being a free agent for the first time in his career. A repeat is possible next year.

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