The Giants' top catching prospect, Aramis Garcia, is taking the field at a different position than behind the dish for the first time in his pro career. If it was up to him, that wouldn't be the case. If it was up to the Giants, that wouldn't be the case either.
But, health always comes first.
Garcia, 24, sustained his second concussion in the last two years on April 20 as the San Jose Giants took on the Visalia Rawhide. A foul tip rocketed straight back and nailed him in the mask, where metal meets plastic, right on top of his forehead.
"I mean, it squared me up straight on," Garcia said over the phone to NBCSportsBayArea.com. "Pretty much the worst part of the mask you can get hit on and just kind of lost my balance for a second. I tried to stay in the game.
"Initially I just thought it was because I got hit in that part of the mask that maybe my head just hurt, but after a couple innings I started to feel different and started to realize it was probably a headache because it started to get worse."
Garcia came out of the game and was later diagnosed with a concussion. San Jose placed him on the seven-day disabled list and he was kept out of baseball activities for four or five days. Symptoms wise though, he describes the incident as a little more than mild. Once they settled down, Garcia progressed off the field enough to get him back on the field May 3.
Last season, the Giants' second-round pick from the 2014 MLB Draft missed a large chunk due to a freak injury. Hustling to second base to break up a double play, Garcia took a knee to the face resulting in several facial fractures that necessitated surgery and kept him out for two months.
After he returned to the field last season, he had to make an equipment change.
"I kind of have to wear a hockey-style mask because of my surgery last year," Garcia explained. "I can't wear a two-piece anymore because the pad on the two-piece mask, it kind of goes over the cheek bones and that's one of the areas I had surgery on last year."
This actually isn't Garcia's first time wearing a hockey-style mask. He wore one in high school, but once he reached college ball at Florida International he switched to a two-piece mask. And he actually prefers the hockey-style mask for two different reasons — vision and comfort.
The bars on a hockey-style mask are much closer to your face, making your line of vision clearer. Plus, there's padding all along the larger catcher's mask compared to an old-school two-piece. The real question though, does a hockey-mask give you more protection than the minimalist two-piece?
"There's different opinions on it,” Garcia says. “Some people believe with the two-piece you're able to, because the mask falls off when you're hit, that limits impact. Other people say that the hockey-style is better, so I honestly couldn't tell you.”
For the time being, Garcia's mask is being put to rest. Since San Jose activated him off the DL, he has strictly played first base and DH. As someone who is usually part of so much of the action and takes pride in his defense, it's frustrating to not catch right now, but Garcia understands the Giants' thought process.
"Mentally, I'm just trying to stay positive. They're doing this because they want me in the lineup, they want me to get my at-bats," Garcia said on the move away from catching for now. "I feel the same exact way. I don't want to be on the DL anymore after last year and then the short stint this year. I want to play as many games as possible.”
The Giants are finding ways to get Garcia in the lineup for good reason. Before his concussion, Garcia was batting .348 with four home runs and 15 RBI in 11 games played. Since the injury, his offensive numbers have taken a tumble. In 13 games off the DL, Garcia has hit .188 with two home runs, but has drove in another 10 runs.
Even after missing time due to his injury and falling in a slump since returning, Garcia still leads San Jose in RBI (25), already passing his total of 24 in 47 games last year. For him, it's all about keeping it simple and sending credit to his teammates where credit is due.
"You gotta credit the guys in front of me too and even in the bottom of the order when we have a big inning going. I mean, those guys are getting on base and giving me the opportunity to drive guys in.
"It's just all about having an approach, trying to keep things simple, having an idea of how the pitcher's gonna attack you."
As he mans first base, Garcia feels much more comfortable there than as a DH. He has prior experience playing some first at FIU, but keeping his body loose hasn't exactly been easy at DH.
"You try to do things, like my last start at DH I would do it like Little League style," Garcia said while laughing. "I would run out and go warm up the right fielder just to get a sprint in and keep my arm loose. If that's gonna help me feel like I'm warm for my next at-bat as opposed to sitting in the dugout for 20 or 30 minutes, I'd rather do that."
The Giants have seen this before. Buster Posey spent time on the seven-day concussion DL this season after taking one off the head at the plate against the D’backs. San Francisco has also gone through a similar situation with a former top catching prospect.
Tommy Joseph, the Giants’ second-round pick in 2009, eventually moved off the position after sustaining multiple concussions. Joseph, now with the Phillies as part of the Hunter Pence trade, hit 21 home runs last season in 107 games.
Garcia is fully committed to catching again when the Giants decide to put him back there and from what he's been told, the move is only temporary. For now, he's taking a leadership mentality no matter where the Giants put him in the field.
"You just try to do what you can to help your team win and you keep moving forward." Spoken like a true catcher.