Washington Nationals’ young players looking to make ‘the chaperones’ proud
Fred Jeter | 9/3/2020, 6 p.m.
A nucleus of the Washington Nationals more resembles a college team than a pro squad.
At least in terms of age, the defending World Series champs have four players who wouldn’t look out of place at a campus fraternity party.
The youngest of the young guns is the Nats’ promising second baseman Luis Victoriano Garcia.
The New York City native was born May 16, 2000. At 20 years, three months, that makes Garcia the majors’ youngest performer.
Then there is left fielder Juan Soto, 22, and center fielder Victor Robles and third baseman Carter Kieboom, both 23.
Garcia, Soto and Robles have become regulars in manager Dave Martinez’s lineup. Kieboom, ranked among baseball’s leading prospects, is currently polishing some rough edges at the Nats’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg.
The Nationals won their first World Series a year ago with an older cast led by National League MVP Anthony Rendon. The third baseman has since switched coasts, opting for free agency and a spot on the Los Angeles Angels roster.
Kieboom, the Nats’ 2016 first round draft choice, is eyed as Rendon’s permanent replacement on the hot corner.
The Nats are hopeful Garcia will follow in the steps of Soto, who became the major’s youngest player in 2018 at 19 years, 207 days. Soto, a left-handed batter, has developed into one the big league’s most feared sluggers. Soto had 34 homers and 110 runs batted in a year ago, and started this season with eight homers and 18 RBIs in his first 20 games. The speedy Robles, among the game’s most spectacular defenders, had 33 doubles, three triples and 17 home runs last season, while stealing 28 bases.
Soto was only 20 years, 11 days, when he made his Nats debut in 2017.
Both Soto and Robles hail from the Dominican Republic and signed with the Nats as 16-year-olds.
Garcia, the first player to reach the majors with a birthday in the 2000s, is a second-generation big leaguer. His father, Luis Rafael Garcia, played shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in 1999.
Garcia, who still wears braces on his teeth and speaks little English, was born in Bronx, N.Y., but moved with his family to the Dominican Republic at age 3. In 2016, Garcia signed a $1.3 million contract with the Nats. It was the second largest international signing bonus the Nats have awarded, after Yasel Antuna.
Antuna, 20, is now in the Nats’ minor league system and is considered a star of the future in the nation’s capital.
An opening emerged for Garcia when regular season baseman Starlin Castro broke his right wrist. Garcia played last season, at age 19, for Harrisburg, Pa., an Eastern League opponent of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
In his Aug. 15 debut in the majors against the Baltimore Orioles, Garcia, wearing jersey No. 62, had two hits, including a double, with two RBIs and a run scored.
Two days later, he socked his first big league home run—a 410-foot blast— against Atlanta.
Still, the Nats’ roster isn’t without its “old-timers.” Veteran utility man Howie Kendrick is 37, and catcher Kurt Suzuki and pitching ace Max Scherzer are both 36.
Good naturedly, the young Nats refer to the older veterans as “the chaperones.”
Not your average Joe
Joe Nuxhall had just finished his sophomore year in high school in Hamilton, Ohio, when he made his big league debut at age 15 with the Cincinnati Reds.
He remains the youngest player in Major League history.
The left-handed pitcher was brought in to pitch in relief June 10, 1944, in a World War II-era game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Cincinnati.
It didn’t go well. The teen gave up five quick runs before being taken out and didn’t pitch again in the majors until 1952, when he was 23.
There’s a happy ending. Nuxhall went on to hurl 14 seasons for the Reds, compiling a 135-119 record.