This was supposed to happen for Avisail Garcia a while ago. Baseball America’s No. 74 prospect heading into the 2013 season, Garcia was the centerpiece for the White Sox of the three-team trade that landed Jake Peavy in Boston and Jose Iglesias in Detroit. He was a monster at the Triple-A level that year, hitting .379/.431/.561, but little has gone right for him since then. In exactly 1,500 plate appearances at the majors between 2013 and last season, Garcia carried a lukewarm .256/.308/.387 slash line..
Thanks in part to the massive rebuild underway on the South Side of Chicago, Garcia got yet another chance to prove he could be a viable everyday player. Finally, something has clicked for the 25-year-old. Garcia is hitting .447/.490/.638 with two homers in 51 plate appearances. He already has 21 hits this season, more than one-fifth of the way to his season-long total last year.
Garcia is threatening to become the newest member in the late-bloomer tradition, breaking through after compiling more than 1,500 career plate appearances. While it’s still too early to draw conclusions from most of what we’ve seen this year, Garcia has made a few noticeable strides, and the statistical outcomes from those could be more than just noise, even this early in the season.
First of all, he’s putting the ball in play more often. Garcia had a 23.8% career strikeout rate heading into this season. He’s at 21.3% thus far, fanning in 10 of his 47 plate appearances. That may still be on the high side, but it’s an improvement, and it’s manageable for any hitter doing damage when he does make contact. Garcia’s whiff rate is at 16%, which would better his previous single-season low mark by 1.2 percentage points. Knowing those numbers, it should be unsurprising that he’s swinging at balls less frequently, with his o-swing rate, the percentage at which a player offers at pitches outside the strike zone, at 36.1%. He has swung at 42.4% of such pitches in his career.
Secondly, Garcia is putting more balls in the air. His ground-ball rate is down at 45.5%, nearly eight percentage points better than his career rate. More contact and elevation are ideal for any player, but it’s particularly important for someone with Garcia’s skill set. If he’s going to realize his potential and be an important piece for an eventual White Sox contender, he needs to be a true middle-of-the-order bat. For the first time during his five full years in the league, he’s looking like he can be that brand of player.
It’s not just Garcia’s results early on this season that are encouraging. Check out his spray chart for the first two weeks of the season.
Look at the locations of his extra-base hits. His two homers went to right-center and right field. He tripled to right-center in a game against the Twins. Garcia has done his most damage to the opposite field, a meaningful fact for his development. Pull-side power is always going to be there for a player with true pop. Opposite-field power, however, is a learned skill. Pitchers are going to want to stay away from Garcia, so making them pay, even on good pitches that they do locate on the outer-third, is crucial. The more success he has on pitches away, the more often he’ll force pitchers to challenge him inside, and that’s how he’ll increase his production.
The following is a great example of what Garcia is doing well this season. He hit a game-winning, two-run homer in the 10th inning against the Twins last Sunday. Ryan Pressly was trying to keep the ball away from him, as most pitchers have early on this season. You can see in the strike zone graphic provided by Comcast Sportsnet Chicago in the GIF below that the first pitch in the at-bat, a strike, was on the outer third. Pressly goes back there on the second pitch of the at-bat, but elevates this fastball. Garcia doesn’t miss it.
Look how easy that power is to the opposite field. This ball had an exit velocity of 105.5 mph and traveled 388 feet. Catching up to Pressly’s heat is one thing. Taking a 98-mph fastball located on the outer third and going with it to the opposite field is another thing entirely. Pressly made exactly the pitch he wanted to here, and Garcia deposited it into the seats in right-center. That’s what good hitters do. Garcia seems to be becoming one right before our eyes.
His first homer of the season was another example of him beating the pitcher on his pitch. This one, too, was against the Twins, with Justin Haley on the mound. Haley comes inside with a fastball on a 1-1 count, and we can tell from where Jason Castro is set up that Haley nails his spot here. Garcia was just better, resulting in a 429-foot home run.
The White Sox rebuild is well underway, but it will still be some years before the team is truly a playoff threat. That reality, however, has given Garcia the last chance he needed to blossom in the majors. He’s turning into the player who was worthy of headlining a trade four years ago, giving the White Sox the power bat every team needs in the middle of the order.
Hitters to watch this week
Eric Thames, 1B/OF, Brewers
Speaking of impressive rebuilds, the Brewers are going to be contending again sooner rather than later. Whether the 30-year-old Thames is part of that is an open question, but he’s making the path back to relevance a lot more fun to watch. The former KBO star is 17-for-42 with seven homers and 12 RBI in 48 plate appearances this season. In 14 games, he has nearly matched the number he hit in 181 games with the Blue Jays and Mariners in 2011 and 2012. He homered off John Lackey on Monday, his fifth straight game with a roundtripper, putting him three games shy of the MLB record. His ownership rate on Yahoo sits at 82%. I’m wondering what’s going on with 18% of the fantasy baseball leagues out there.
Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers
A strong start to the season felt important for Mazara. He excelled early in his rookie season a year ago, but sputtered in the second half, ultimately slashing .266/.320/.419 with 20 homers. This is his age-22 season and a lot of growth remains ahead, but it’s encouraging to see him hitting .340/.377/.620 with four homers over the first two weeks of the season. No matter how many great days are still ahead of him, it’s great that he’s already enjoying some in April. That has him locked into the No. 3 spot in the Rangers order for the foreseeable future.
Adam Eaton, OF, Nationals
Eaton is doing his thing in his first year in Washington, getting on base at a .434 clip. With Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman behind him in the lineup, Eaton has already scored 11 runs this season. Dusty Baker is turning him loose on the basepaths, as well, and Eaton has rewarded his manager with a pair of stolen bases. He could easily be looking at a .290/.370/.430 season with 100 runs, 15 homers and 20 steals.
Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins
Gordon, too, is playing right to script this season. He has 18 hits, all but two of which are singles, in 55 plate appearances. He has yet to draw a walk this season, although he has been hit by one pitch. His batting average, OBP and slugging percentage are within 37 points of one another, but that’s not hampering his game one bit. And, of course, he has stolen three bases, about one for every six times he has reached base. That formula may not work for everyone, but we have seen it work for Gordon time and time again.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Lindor went 0-for-6 with a pair of walks in the first two games of the season. Since then, he is 17-for-41 with four homers, four doubles, seven RBI and five more walks against seven strikeouts. After going 1-for-5 in a win over the Twins on Monday, he’s riding an 11-game hitting streak. Lindor has the best glove among the members of the shortstop renaissance, but we’ve known that for some time. He’ll likely never match the power numbers of Corey Seager or Carlos Correa, but, as a total offensive package, he may be just as good.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox
We’ve come full circle, getting back to the team that was the focus of the main topic of this week’s Hitting Report. The White Sox may not have expected Avisail Garcia to turn into a key player for them this year, but the same is not true of Moncada. The biggest piece in the package that came back to Chicago from Boston for Chris Sale, Moncada is already turning heads at Triple-A Charlotte. It’s likely we won’t have to wait much longer for him to be doing the same in Chicago.
Moncada, who turns 22 at the end of May, entered this season as a consensus top-five prospect among the three major prospect ratings services. Baseball America and MLB.com had him second, behind only Andrew Benintendi, his former teammate in Boston who already had 118 plate appearances heading into this season. With Beintendi officially shedding his prospect status this year, Moncada is now the crown jewel of the minor leagues.
Moncada is getting his first taste of Triple-A ball this year, and quickly making easy work of the best pitchers the minors have to offer. In 47 plate appearances, he’s hitting .317/.404/.488 with a pair of homers. He has struck out 14 times, but he has also drawn six walks, a ratio that the White Sox would happily take should he be able to match that once he gets the call.
The White Sox don’t have any reason to rush Moncada up to the bigs. As talented as he is, he could certainly use plenty of seasoning at Charlotte before he joins the White Sox. Still, there’s little doubt that he’ll make his major league debut at some point this season, likely in the middle of the summer. Once he does make the move to Chicago, he’ll be immediately of interest in all fantasy formats.
GIF of the Week
Mitch Haniger is getting it done at the plate, slashing .294/.410/.588 in 61 plate appearances over the first two weeks of the season. He’s not bad with the glove, either.