Avisail Garcia started the season red hot, seeing his batting average climb to astronomical levels and the top of the league. Not only was the batting average, which is mostly meaningless, up in the stratosphere but he was also hitting for more power and extra bases than ever before. All of this came with two caveats: it was early, and his BABIP was completely unsustainable. So we waited, knowing the massive crater would come. Surely Garcia would regress to who he had always been, and it would happen in a truly horrific manner. Rising so high could only mean that the fall to earth was all the more painful for Garcia and fans alike. But now it’s the end of June, and Garcia is still doing his thing. Now we are left to wonder: is this real?
But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Most White Sox fans didn’t become acquainted with Garcia until he was traded to the team in 2013. Some, I am sure, went and looked at scouting reports from before the season began and were pleasantly surprised that the White Sox snagged such a gifted player. Others may have remembered Garcia from his impressive performance in the ALCS for the Tigers the year before. Regardless, most fans had a positive outlook on who Garcia was.
Before the start of the 2013 season the head of the Baseball Prospectus prospect team, Jason Parks, ranked Garcia the second best Tigers prospect but left him out of the Top 101. Parks had this to say about his strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: Massive size/strength; high-end athlete for such size; loud tools; good bat-to-ball skills; very read/react hitter with excellent hand-eye coordination; plus-plus raw power; easy 7 arm; 6 run; glove is above average; promising defensive profile.
Weaknesses: Aggressive approach; swing can get loose; prone to zone expansion and secondary exploitation; struggles when he works to the pull side; power utility is big question mark; hit tool could fold after book is written at highest level.
All of this makes sense when compared to what we’ve seen from Garcia so far. The strengths were raw tools that could have potentially blossomed into a superstar, but they remained unpolished. His hit tool was considered strong, but it had a huge amount of risk involved. In the grand scheme of things, Garcia was considered a very good player. He had the body and the tools; he wasn’t reliant on a single tool breaking right in order to survive and thrive. That usually breeds some sort of success.
What the White Sox saw from Garcia from the trade in 2013 to the end of the 2016 season, however, was every single one of his weaknesses dominating any of the strengths they, and other talent evaluators, saw. It was a disaster, and it looked like Garcia was doomed to be another failed White Sox prospect. Another bat with contact issues that fell by the wayside because of an inability to unleash the strengths that lied within. There were flashes of good, but the weaknesses always won out.
In 2017, something has clicked for Garcia. Sure, he’s sporting a .417 BABIP that has already dropped considerably over the past month and is likely to drop even more. That’s inflating his batting average to a cool .342 and garnering a lot of attention. But if we can look beyond the basics there’s certainly some improvement worth talking about.
Keeping it simple for a second, his slash line for the season is .342/.384/.553. The number that pops out here is the slugging percentage. Before this season, Garcia’s highest career slugging percentage was .422 in 2013. For a player that was lauded for his power as a prospect, .422 is a low bar to have set in the first five seasons of a career. In 2017 he’s showing that power potential through not only home runs but doubles as well.
Going a little beyond the slash line, Garcia has lowered his strikeout rate from last year to this one by 3.2 percent. On the flip side, he has allowed his walk rate to dip by 3.3 percent. However, that might be by design.
Garcia is swinging more at pitches outside of the zone. Previously that has been a point of weakness, leading to poor contact rates and a ton of whiffs. This season, Garcia is making his tendency to swing a lot work for him by making more contact than he has in previous seasons. It’s odd to think that a player can just magically make more contact on the same types of pitches he was missing before. Perhaps the tendency to think that’s odd revolves around the fact that adjustments like the ones Garcia has made this season are often done in the minor leagues when the player is much younger.
Regardless of how or why Garcia is making more contact, it’s important to note that he’s doing it. It’s no longer a small sample with 284 plate appearances under his belt. There is no quick way to get around the fact that Garcia has the fourth best wRC+ among American League outfielders. We can no longer laugh off the .211 ISO or .553 slugging percentage. The reality is that Garcia has played half a season and sits behind just Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts in terms of WARP among right fielders.
It’s difficult to rationalize how a season like this happens. Sure, the tools have always been there. But toolsy prospects see their tools dwindle and are labeled as busts all the time. Rarely does a player toil away for multiple seasons in the big leagues before breaking out in the way Garcia has. What he has done was literally unimaginable coming into the season. Preseason PECOTA predictions had his 90th percentile outcome being a .316/.365/.490 slash line with a .303 TAv and 2.2 WARP. He has outperformed every single one of those numbers.
So we are still left wondering if this is who Garcia is now — if this unimaginable season that nobody could have predicted is indicative of the player we’ll see in the future. Perhaps the contact rate drops along with his BABIP. That would have very impactful, negative consequences on the second half of his season. Or perhaps he sees the BABIP slowly drop as he continues to weather the storm and make contact. It’s hard to say what will come for Garcia in the second half.
Logic says that he will regress to the player he has always been, but he’s already defied logic by doing this for nearly 70 games. The mystery has not yet been solved, but Garcia continues to push the doubts further and further back in the minds of White Sox fans. For now, Garcia is among the best outfielders in the league. It’s happening, it’s weird, and I have no clue if it will continue.
Lead Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports