One of a handful of top Tigers prospects playing winter ball, Avisail Garcia has been in the Venezuelan Winter League long enough to put up some relevant numbers – and they aren’t too pretty. A .185/.267/.222 slash line. He has 15 strikeouts in 59 plate appearances, against competition that – while not without talent by any means – is not major league caliber. He has only 2 extra base hits, both doubles.
Though I don’t recall any of our contributors making a loud case for Garcia on next year’s 25 at MCB, I have heard that case made repeatedly elsewhere – that Garcia is a decent option to start in a corner now and that he’s only a breath away from stardom (usually in 2014). I have always been puzzled as to exactly why. Garcia definitely outperformed expectations in his limited time in Detroit last season – particularly strike zone recognition and his approach at the plate (and also BABIP…). There were, however, huge reasons for concern that we saw in September (not just in his minor league track record): he still doesn’t seem to do a great job of actually putting his tremendous tools to use. He’s big, but he doesn’t hit for power. He’s fast, but he doesn’t steal bases and he doesn’t necessarily make the plays in the outfield. He IS young, but typically guys grow into the power and sometimes some of the speed. You might project an increase in home runs based on a skinny guy’s frame, but can you project an increase in home runs for a guy who’s already hulking but hits everything on the ground?
Garcia also saw primarily left-handed pitching as a Tiger, which might be the big reason why his numbers look so bad in the VWL in comparison. Down there he is seeing very, very few lefties – and he’s looking poorly partly as a result. One thing that he’s doing pretty well? He has (at least in this small sample) kept his walk rate up – as he did with Detroit in September and in the playoffs. His 3% walk rates in the minors weren’t going to be good enough as a major leaguer, suggesting (without improvement there) a ceiling something like Jeff Francoeur. His 5 walks in 76 PAs in Detroit and 5 in 59 in the VWL are a real step in the right direction.
We have heard from Dombrowski that he doesn’t want to keep Garcia on the 2013 roster to use sparingly as a reserve, but that he would like to give him the opportunity to win a larger role in Spring Training. This would (I presume) make Andy Dirks Garcia’s backup rather than the other way around, and might be a reason that the Tigers haven’t pushed too hard to sign a right-handed reserve. I don’t think it’s very likely that Garcia will earn that kind of a role or that he will thrive in one if it is handed to him. But… I am no longer convinced that the best place for Garcia to develop is Toledo, the more that I think about it. He is probably ready to make an actual contribution – as a major leaguer – in the kind of role that he was used in last fall. While he would not, I assume, get as much attention from coaches on fundamentals in Detroit – that might not be what it takes for him to make strides. He never showed any inclination to work counts and take pitches prior to showing up in Detroit – but once he got there he got some words of wisdom from a guy named Miguel Cabrera. I suspect that made a difference. If he’s on the roster in 2013 he’ll get plenty more pointers from Miggy as well as clubhouse leader Victor Martinez. He could learn a lot about fielding just from watching how Torii Hunter makes his approach. Could be that being the 4th outfielder would be the best kind of apprenticeship that Garcia could get.