A poll inspired by @Nick_BPSS: Which Garcia has surprised you more this year?
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) June 8, 2017
This conversation posed by our formerly fearless leader (he has plenty of fear now) inspired plenty of debate around our odd corner of the internet, so much so that I figured it’s worth diving into a bit further.
Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia have been two of the more surprising positives on this year’s White Sox as we pass the one-third mark of the season. You could argue that a few others may be more surprising — Yolmer Sanchez, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle — but I’m not hearing that right now. We’re here to talk about Avisail and Leury. Why? Because they’re both named Garcia and both play the outfield. And because Jim Jam said so.
So let’s argue both cases.
The reason Avisail seems the obvious choice, first and foremost, is because of familiarity. Avisail entered the season with 1,412 plate appearances in his White Sox career and a whole lot of mediocrity behind them. We’ve come to know exactly what to expect out of Avisail, and 2017 was going to be the year we stopped groaning about him. He was no longer going to drag down a wannabe contender, but instead just be another bad player on a bad team that was supposed to be bad all along.
What he’s done to this point in 2017 is a lot of what we hoped for when the White Sox acquired him in 2013. He’s hitting both for power and average, making more contact, pulling the ball more often, and hitting fewer ground balls.
So on one hand, sure, this is what Avisail was supposed to become. Had he been doing exactly this for the past four seasons, we’d have spent the last few seasons singing his praises and to this point begun taking his consistent above average production for granted. He’d probably have a hefty extension in his pocket, or instead be counting down the days until free agency when he’d be one of the most sought after hitters on the market.
But … those 1,412 plate appearances.
I wrote just Wednesday about Avisail’s All-Star chances and how his abysmal production over the past four years has engrained in me a distrust in him that’s going to take a hell of a lot longer than one-third of a season to get rid of.
To that end, Avisail’s start is surprising enough that I still don’t totally believe it’s happened. That’s tough to beat.
Avisail was both familiar and disappointing entering the season to the point where you could accurately describe him as a microcosm of everything wrong with the White Sox of the past several seasons.
Leury is the exact opposite in the sense that, despite making appearances with the White Sox at various points during the last four seasons, I often forgot he existed.
Even during the Spring Training center field competition, I often discounted Leury as the White Sox were deciding who to ride north with between him, Jacob May and Peter Bourjos. Fair or not, with those two and Charlie Tilson in tow, the White Sox had a lot of center field options who came to mind for me before Leury.
That is, I think, because while I totally, definitely knew what to expect out of Avisail, I thought I knew what to expect out of Leury. And what I expected was a quad-A utility player unlikely to improve on his career OPS+ of 30.
Instead, Leury has become, at least to this point in the season, a first division starter among American League center fielders whose play has also warranted All-Star consideration. Despite not walking a considerable amount more often than previously, he’s improved his contact rate by nearly 10 percent while cutting down on his strikeouts by the same amount.
He was always considered someone who could be relied upon defensively at a number of positions, including center field, but his improvements offensively are tough to fathom. Put another way, Jerry Sands (the same Jerry Sands cut loose by the White Sox a year ago and failed to latch on with another team until signing a minor league deal with the Giants last week) had a .567 OPS and wRC+ of 52 with the White Sox a year ago. Leury’s career OPS and wRC+, even after 181 really good plate appearances this season, are .585 and 56, respectively.
Leury Garcia: From Jerry Sands to All-Star overnight.
When Jim Jam first posed this question on Twitter dot com, my initial reaction, despite most of the votes going to the contrary, was for Leury. Going from obscurity to possible All-Star, in my eyes, is more difficult than going from albatross to All-Star, and that’s essentially what we’re looking at.
But I’m having a tough time getting over the fact that, despite all the evidence, I still don’t fully believe in Avisail. Maybe that’s because his value is so incredibly tied to his offense — Leury would still maintain value thanks to his defense even if his offense craters — but it plays a significant factor in my decision making.
Still, entering the season I could fathom in my mind a reality in which Avisail could perform more or less as he has in 2017. After all, he had hovered around being a league average hitter and still has a pretty elevated BABIP to date. I couldn’t do that with Leury, at least as far as his offense is concerned.
So the answer is Leury. Leury is the most surprising Garcia on the 2017 White Sox. Apologies to Avisail, Willy, Ray, and Cat.
Lead Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports