Avisail Garcia: A Closer Look

The White Sox finally made the trade that everyone knew they were going to make, sending Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in a three team deal that included the Detroit Tigers.  In return, the White Sox got a grab bag of low prospects from the Red Sox and Avisail Garcia from the Tigers.  

Garcia is clearly the centerpiece of this deal, and how he performs in a White Sox uniform will ultimately determine how Rick Hahn is judged on his first big trade as General Manager of the Sox. 

First let’s look at the raw numbers on Garcia, rated the #74 prospect in baseball before the 2013 season by Baseball America.

Garcia was signed by the Tigers in 2007 and played in his native country of Venezuela in their summer league in 2008 as a 17 year old. He spent 2009-11 at the Tigers Single-A teams before making the jump to AA Erie in 2012, hitting .312/.345/.465.  The Tigers called him up to the majors as a late season call-up, and he hit .319 for the Tigers down the stretch as they caught the White Sox and won the AL Central.  He then hit .455 with a double and three RBI in the ALCS against the Yankees, helping the Tigers win the pennant. 

He’s split time between AAA Toledo and the Tigers this year.  In 39 minor league games, he is hitting .380 with 6 homers and 27 RBI, he also has 7 doubles and 3 triples.  In 23 games with the Tigers, he hit .241 with 2 homers, 2 doubles, a triple and 10 knocked in. 

Going a little deeper into the numbers is where the issues with Garcia lie.  He, like many young Latin players, is a free swinger.  He strikes out a lot more than he walks.  In fact he doesn’t really walk at all, just 91 bases on balls in his 562 career minor league games.  This year, he has 33 strikeouts against 12 walks in 39 minor league games.  He has one of the highest swing rates in the minors, and is among the bottom in terms of contact.

Last year with the Tigers, he struck out 10 times in 51 plate appearances (19.6%) and walked three times (5.9%).  This year, in 88 plate appearances, Garcia struck out 21 times (23.8%) and walked only four times (4.5%).  He is going to have to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his plate discipline to be effective at the Major League level.  However, even with a minor league strikeout rate of almost 18%, he has still managed to have an .985 OPS. So, when he does connect, he’s making good contact. 

Most people will look at these numbers and say that Rick Hahn has brought in another Dayan Viciedo or that the White Sox already have several players like this in the minors.  They might be right, but Garcia to me, doesn’t look like Viciedo at the plate.

As a Pitch FX operator in Detroit, I have gotten a chance to see Garcia first-hand the last two years and he impressed me, especially last season, with his approach at the plate.  He was more than willing to take what the pitchers gave him last year and take the ball right back up the middle or shoot it the other way for a single.  He wasn’t up there swinging hard and trying to hit home runs. 

This year, he got off to a decent start when he was called-up before pitchers started to adjust and stopped throwing him strikes.  Like many young hitters, Garcia started to swing and miss more and got himself out on several occasions, something we have seen Josh Phegley struggle with.  Garcia showed great plate coverage last year with the Tigers, and I think that worked against him this year as pitchers took advantage by working the ball farther out of the zone.  However, Garcia is just 22 years old, and there is time for him to work on his plan at the plate. 

Here’s what most impressed me about Avisail Garcia: he looks like a baseball player.  Now I’m sure all the stat geeks and sabermetric guys will laugh at that evaluation, but Garcia showed me something that isn’t quantified as a number and doesn’t show up on paper: he looks the part.  You have to see him in person to understand, it but he looks like a baseball player.

Rick Hahn said he believes that Garcia is a five tool player, and I agree.  He has good speed for a guy his size. While he isn’t a base stealer, he runs the bases well and can easily go first to third and score from second.  He has a plus throwing arm from the outfield (54 career assists in the minors) and can probably play all three positions, although I think he translates as a corner outfielder more than a centerfielder.  His power is still developing, but he has shown power to all fields, something that will play well in homer-friendly US Cellular Field.  Also, he plays the game hard, plays the game right, and doesn’t seem to be intimidated by any situation, given his performance in the ALCS last year. 

This is a gamble for Rick Hahn and the White Sox, as Garcia is another “toolsy” outfielder with a tendency to strike out.  The rest of the players coming over in this deal likely do not have enough upside to salvage the trade if Garcia falls on his face.

I, for one, do not think he will. Don’t expect him to come out of the gate like Mike Trout did last year, and don’t write him off if he struggles early on, but I think Garcia has the make-up to be a productive everyday player in the big leagues for the White Sox.  He just has that look.