Over the next few weeks, BP South Side will be reviewing the performance of all 51 players who suited up for the 2017 White Sox. Players whose seasons were particularly noteworthy will get their own standalone article, while smaller contributors or those who were traded/cut will be grouped together. We’ll do our best to summarize and analyze what each player brought to this year’s club, what we learned, didn’t learn, and what it all means for his future with the team.
When we started writing the White Sox Season in Review posts last year, there was one player I absolutely felt the compelling need to write about: Avisail Garcia. To me, he represented everything that had been wrong with the Sox front office player scouting and development over the past decade: a questionable bucket of tools that somehow never developed into anything beneficial to the team. I proceeded to write what is easily the meanest thing I’ve ever written about anything non-Illinois football related. I mean, look at this paragraph in particular.
If all of this sounds like I’m mad at Garcia for not being a good baseball player, I’d like to clarify that I’m not. To me, at least, that would feel like getting mad at the dead skunk that’s been lying on the side of the road for two weeks for smelling terrible: you’re placing your anger in the wrong place. It’s not the roadkill’s fault that it smells. It’s roadkill. That’s what it does. You should be mad at the city for not having had someone come clean the corpse off the shoulder.
That is … something. I combined my frustrations with Garcia as a player, the Sox organizational failures, and some personal stuff I was going through (I was working a job that made me absolutely miserable) and banged out a brutal hit piece that went way farther than it needed to. On the incredibly off chance he read that and is also reading this, Avi, I’m sorry.
In Spring Training we got to read all the usual “best shape of his life” articles that return every spring like the swallows to Capistrano. But this time they actually seemed to be accurate. Garcia looked like a different man and per a source with firsthand knowledge, he had taken the bad body and lazy work ethic labels he’d been given pretty personally. And it translated to his play. He beat multiple infield hits out in Arizona. His outfield routes seemed crisper. All around, he looked like a different player. But that’s just Spring Training and sometimes the desert creates mirages.
April shattered that theory. Garcia exploded out of the gate, hitting .368/.409/.621 with five home runs to start the season. His hot start propelled him to his first All-Star Game. If you had asked 100 Sox fans before the season which player would represent them in the depths of this rebuild, maybe three would have said Garcia and two of those three would have said him because they couldn’t name anyone else left on the roster. Years of promise and potential finally came to fruition. Other than one down month, Avi looked like the legitimate All-Star we’d been promised he’d become since his time in Toledo.
Garcia set career highs in just about every meaningful hitting statistic, only falling short in PA (by 40), BB (by three), and SB (by two). He cut his K percentage by just under 6 percent from 2016. His power came easier, he saw the ball better, and he ran harder than before. Even more impressively, he went from a pure defensive liability that pained you to watch (Dayan Viciedo and Kyle Schwarber come to mind) to something just near league-average. He went from someone who was replacement level at best to an All-Star choice that won’t draw scorn and ridicule years down the line (looking at you for an eternity, Ken Harvey).
It’s not all wedding cake though. It’s very reasonable to be worried that his .392 BABIP is unsustainable or that his .176 ISO is partially due to the juiced ball season this year strangely was. But even with modest declines in both of those numbers, we’re at least looking at a 2-3 WARP guy and not someone in danger of being DFA’d or non-tendered in the immediate winter. In what could have been an absolute slog of a season for Sox fans, Garcia wound up being a tremendously pleasant surprise who adds an interesting level of future intrigue for the remainder of the rebuild.
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