If you're looking for a reason why the White Sox are not being immediately crowned as the conquering heroes of the AL Central after their OFFSEASON CHAMPIONSHIP, look no further than vaunted prospect Avisail Garcia. While the Sox have been pushing Garcia as a foundational since his arrival, the projection systems that push around tepid win expectations anticipate Garcia as a complete zero, or at the very best, below-average.
FanGraphs' oft-cited Steamer projections like Garcia's bat well enough (.273/.317/.426, 106 wRC+), but as it does with most of the Sox regulars, sees a catastrophic defender who saps more than an entire win from the club just playing in right field every day. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections have been around the block more times, but see Garcia as even worse (.269/.309/.417); an unremarkable defender but a hitter worse than Dayan Viciedo. Basically, ZiPS doesn't see why you play Garcia over Viciedo.
To put it nicely, this is where there seems to be the biggest gulf between the Chicago perception of what Garcia will be, and what flyover analysis of Garcia's production sets the expectations for him. Garcia has flashed/promised/shown the capability to be very good or very bad at everything--He has a revered hit tool and strikes out over 20% of the time, he's had trouble sustaining above-average power production and pulling with authority, and I once saw him one-hand a ball 420-feet out like he was doing his morning tai-chi. What you see in Garcia says a lot about you.
Defense: This is the hardest to pin down but since it's being used to downgrade Garcia's expected performance from "reliable regular starter" to "disease," it's worth getting straight-out. Garcia was seen as a plus-runner when he first arrived, yet still a big-framed man with a strong throwing arm. With those raw tools and praised athleticism, plus-defense was seen as a possibility, even if his awareness wasn't really there in 2013. Last year he seemed thicker--which was to be expected--slower (that too) and still a bit confused. Before the second week of April, he was out with a torn labrum and his late-season return saw him trying to finding his range again while trying to avoid the recklessness that got him hurt in the first place. For his MLB career, Garcia has under 1100 outfield innings spread out over three years.
This is an utterly meaningless collection of data at this point, especially with the defensive metrics we have at hand, and the potential for the conditioning Garcia shows up to 2015 with to move the needle on the still just 23-year-old's defensive ability. Guard yourself from the fantasy that he'll be a Gold Glover, but perhaps riding on with data that says he's worse than Nelson Cruz in the field isn't a useful position to stake out either.
Getting on base: Garcia is probably never going to walk a lot. Continued refinement or increased fear around the league could allow him to flirt with league average, but it's not natural to his approach and we need to stop panicking every time a hitter is naturally aggressive.
What it does do is place a higher stress on Garcia to hit for average. The projections that pitch him as a .270 hitter provide a nice baseline, but a disappointing figure if there's any hope for him to excel. He's skilled and comfortable spraying balls on the outer half to right field, and at least showed the occasional ability to pull balls for power to left. This might force pitchers to prefer to live outside, but he's still got a big, long swing and holes in his coverage up in the zone and on the inner half. With a career swinging strike rate of 16.4%, it's a minor miracle he hits for an average as high as he does already. There was originally optimism that plus-running ability would allow him to post a large BABIP, but that wasn't a big part of his game in 2014, and it remains to be seen if being healthy will allow him to return in better shape in 2015, or if he's just a big kid who is going to continue to fill out.
A .270 batting average with a .320 OBP requires enough things going right and Garcia's K-rate not exploding that it would be foolhardy to expect more.
Power: This is where my personal optimism lies. Garcia, like another unrefined young corner outfielder before, has stupid raw power. Unlike Viciedo, Garcia has shown an ability to turn on balls, and even those with good velocity, to left field, where his raw strength allows him to leave the yard with room to spare. He's not a dead-red pull guy, he seems more comfortable staying back on pitches and spraying to right, but given how much he'll get challenged inside he should have the opportunity to bump up against 20 home runs in a season. That kind of production can be the difference between slugging .420 and slugging over .450, which can be the difference between being an average bat and being a solid regular.
And being a solid regular, or holding his ground at all, is a major way the Sox can flout the tepid projections following them around.
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