ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — One of the main goals of the White Sox work with Avisail Garcia is improving the outfielder’s pitch recognition.
While the offensive numbers have been slow to come so far, Garcia has made progress in swinging at better pitches. He still has ground to gain, but Garcia has swung at 7 percent fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this season, according to fangraphs.com. While Garcia is only hitting .207/.281/.448 with two home runs and four RBIs in his first 32 plate appearances, the White Sox believe his improved selectivity will ultimately benefit him at the plate.
“If he continues that way you would expect the production to come,” manager Robin Ventura said. “This is a kid that’s still young and learning.
“His recognition is better. Where he’s at in his legs also makes it better. The adjustments he made in spring training is part of the reason. He had more time to see it as well. It’s an adjustment that has paid off for him.”
Garcia has plenty of room for improvement.
Out of 141 qualified hitters in 2015, Garcia ranked 138th in PITCHf/x Plate Discipline as he chased 44.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. Garcia has reduced that figure to 37.9 percent this season, which currently ranks 181st out of 209.
Part of the reduction comes from Garcia standing taller at the plate, which allows him to see the ball better. Hitting coach Todd Steverson can see a difference, even if it's subtle.
Garcia has extended more at-bats where he has fallen behind in the count. Perhaps his best was Thursday when Garcia fell behind Ervin Santana 1-2 and made the pitcher throw nine pitches. While the at-bat resulted in a strikeout, Garcia had seen everything Santana would attack him with, and he later homered and doubled, big keys in a 3-1 victory.
“Some very good at-bats,” Steverson said. “Been down 1-2 and not chased a few pitches that maybe he did in the past. My thing in kind of evaluating his approach and thought process is really that. Everybody got on him for all the chase pitches, all the early swings and all of the out-of-the-zone stuff.
“The scrutiny was his recognition and his ability to put strikes in play consistently, and I think he’s done that pretty well up to this point. He’s chased a few pitches here and there, and everybody has on this team. But he was documented on it. I think he’s doing a hell of a job making the adjustment.”
Garcia said his goal is mostly to stay focused and fight in every at-bat, not give any away. He and Steverson have worked to stay away from outside pitches, too.
“You’ve got to get better,” Garcia said. “Every year. Work to get better. That’s what we work on.
“You try to lay that pitch off and leave the outside corner alone and try to swing to something close to you.”
Pretty simple stuff — but if Garcia can stay with it, there’s no reason he can’t tap into his powerful frame. Now that the results count, the trick is getting Garcia to trust an approach he has worked on since January. While the results haven’t been overwhelming so far, Garcia has a 107 wRC+ (Weights Runs Created Plus) — above league average — in 32 plate appearances entering Friday.
“Everybody wants the result because we have to win ballgames,” Steverson said. “But the process of it becomes a result. And if you get more result-oriented than you are process-oriented than you are more subject to change and not having anything definitive going forward. He’s stayed pretty true to what we’ve been doing.”