Avisail Garcia is heading to Miami for the All-Star Game.
That’s not something many White Sox fans would’ve expected heading into this season after Garcia put up a few mediocre years since coming over from the Detroit Tigers in a 2013 trade. But after an offseason of hard work and a half-season of stellar offensive production, the team’s big bat of the future is finally its big bat of the present.
“I feel happy,” Garcia said Sunday. “It’s an honor to represent the White Sox in the All-Star Game. It’s an honor for me. It’s another blessing. I just have to keep working and can’t wait for that moment.
“I believe in myself. And you know, I know I work hard trying to improve myself, my career. Like I said it’s another blessing. When you work hard and believe in yourself, I think you got a really good chance to be where I am right now representing the White Sox in the All-Star Game. I feel blessed for that.”
Garcia flashed plenty of potential when he first came to the South Side in the three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Boston Red Sox and Jose Iglesias to the Tigers. In his first 42 games in a White Sox uniform during that 2013 season, he hit .304 with a .327 on-base percentage.
But in the three full seasons that followed, Garcia had plenty wondering why he was such a high-profile acquisition in the first place. In the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons, he combined to slash .250/.308/.380, striking out 300 times.
Then came the work.
This past offseason, Garcia explained, he got to work, hitting the gym and the cage to transform himself into the hitter the White Sox thought he could be.
“I lost weight first of all. I worked on my hitting. And all that stuff, wake up every day at like 5 a.m. to go to the gym and work hard. And then go back home in the afternoon and then go to hit like three times per week,” Garcia said. “All that work is coming together.”
The work has definitely paid off. Garcia is slashing .318/.362/.512 in 75 games this season with 11 homers and 51 RBIs. He’s one off his 120-game total in home runs from a season ago and has already matched the RBI number from 2016. His current OPS of .875 is more than 140 points above his previous career high.
“He played some winter ball last year and I spoke to him over the winter. He talked about wanting to improve himself as a player,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “There's never been a doubt this kid's driven to try to perform and excel. I hope it's something that's going to be here and he'll continue to move forward into the future in terms of the consistency. Maybe he's scratching the surface right now, finally starting to get to grips with who he is as a player and what he's doing.”
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Now all that work has earned Garcia a place on the American League All-Star team. Not that he was expecting that to happen.
“I just take one day at a time,” Garcia said. “I don't like to think what's going to happen. I just think right now. We have to be like that because we're focused for the game. Whatever happens outside happens. It's work. When you work hard and when you play hard, you don't have to think about it. It's going to come along. You just have to be focused and play hard every day, try to do your best and give 100 percent on the field.”
While the joy of being included among baseball’s best at the All-Star Game was apparent — Garcia sported a huge smile when he spoke about his All-Star jersey hanging in his locker — the biggest message Garcia’s selection sends is the change in his standing when it comes to the White Sox rebuild.
While the team always envisioned this type of production as a possibility, fans and observers — not known for their patience — weren’t sold on Garcia as a long-term piece through the last three middling seasons. With the rebuild underway, many were hesitant to include Garcia in their lineup projections for two or three seasons down the road.
This All-Star season has likely changed many minds. Garcia, just 26, can now easily be envisioned in a batting order alongside the likes of Yoan Moncada, Zack Collins and Luis Robert.
“It’s just maturation,” Renteria said. “All players, after a certain point in time, you start to feel comfortable at the big league level. We’re hoping that this is the beginning of something that he will continue to be able to push forward and maintain some consistency throughout the rest of his career. There’ll be some ups and downs, but for the most part I think he’s coming to understand who he is as a player and he’s trusting it. Hopefully that continues.”
“It’s big. I think a lot of people believe in me, like myself. I appreciate that,” Garcia said. “I thank god for those people that believe in me. I know who I am, what kind of person I am. I know what kind of player I am. I have to keep working and try to get better every day, every year, and try to improve.
“I want to have success here. I would like to stay here for a long time. That's why I'm trying to do my best every day, every year. I'm trying to improve, trying to do my best so I can be here for a long time.”
With All-Star validation, being on the South Side for a long time suddenly seems a lot more realistic.
“First time,” Garcia said, “hopefully there's many more to come.”