Hopes and prayers

Avisail Garcia looked really, really good Monday. He just wouldn’t be the frustrating figure that he is if he didn’t look like someone capable of taking over a game every now and then, and this was his night.

He collected four hits, including his 11th home run of the season, which is a paltry total, but considering he was stuck on five until July 23 and has only played in 31 games since then, that’s actually a roughly 30-dinger pace over that stretch if you project it for a season where he got…a ton of playing time. Of course, with Garcia’s defense, the substantial amount of swing-and-miss in his game without a substantial interest in walks to counterbalance it, he has to hit 25+ home runs to be an interesting player, but it’s been a long enough wait to see Garcia act on any of his power that it’s exciting when he does anything that hints that he could tap into it.

Garcia is a large man with a long swing, and is most comfortable when he gets his arms extended, and seemingly really uncomfortable when he’s challenged inside, and especially when he’s challenged with top-end velocity inside. At his worst, blowing him away inside looks so simple that it’s hard to fathom why anyone would do anything else. At his best, well, Monday night Carlos Carrasco (not a slouch) tried to jam him with a 94 mph fastball just off the inside edge and he launched it 417 feet out to left-center. It helps that Carrasco tried to jam him already in his previous at-bat and Garcia was ready for it, but that’s a cool trick (defending yourself against a perceived vulnerability is a very cool trick), and given the raw power he showed, he doesn’t even have to pull it off perfectly for it to work.

There’s also no real split that can be sliced off from Garcia’s recent work that makes him look like a changed man other than to say “he’s 4-for-5 with a home run and a strikeout since Monday.” This outburst snapped him out of a poor start to September where he slugged .293 in his first 10 games. Garcia doesn’t provide periods of prolonged dominance after specific adjustments, or stretches where everything works and looks good, so much as moments, moments spotted strategically across the whole season to prevent a total loss of faith.

If the Sox really gave Garcia another opportunity play a regular role in 2017, they could honestly say they believe he can succeed because they have seen him show the tools and skills to thrive against the league’s best. They would just be taking a risky bet at a meaningful position (Right field? Designated hitter? Designated right fielder?), and they are past due they start reducing the number of those they take.

They could similarly take an even better bet on Tyler Saladino, who can do more on the field to take the pressure off his bat, and has more consistently performed in 2016. Capable of playing everywhere with a bat that doesn’t kill you anywhere, Saladino will have job no matter what, and if he gets an opportunity to play everyday in 2017, he’ll have earned the opportunity.

Any of our evaluators here would tell that neither project well as starters, and would need to overcome significant shortcomings in their game to avoid being exposed over a full season. Saladino obviously generates more confidence than Garcia, but both fit into a larger bin of players they would hope could hold up to league average performance in a full-time role, while the burden of providing standout, above-average play would have to be filled elsewhere.

The Sox could still have confidence in them, and every team is taking a chance on a position or two per year, but the Sox should have a specific mandate to reduce that number, since between Austin Jackson, Garcia, the catching platoon and Saladino and Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, they rolled the dice on half the lineup this season, and unsurprisingly did not have the depth to adapt at all these spots–nor the ability to act quickly–when they didn’t roll a bunch of sixes.

Maybe this isn’t steering toward a earth-shattering point. Obviously Saladino and Garcia would be hard-pressed to significantly change the perception of their abilities in September, and whether they do or not may not actually be the deciding factor. If the Sox remain a team that seeks to win now, without acknowledging that their budget needs to expand in their competitive window, so that they can fill out their lineup with reliable performers, they’re taking a bet with longer odds than Garcia and Saladino, and at least you can see those guys working to improve.


Lead Image Credit: Patrick Gorski // USA Today Sports

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