MIAMI -- Andrew Miller actively roots for players like White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia.
Now one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, the Cleveland Indians pitcher didn’t experience true, consistent success until he’d been in the major leagues for five years.
Similar to Garcia, Miller has experienced the ups and downs of the big leagues. He remembers that feeling of wondering whether or not he belonged in the fraternity and the doubts it created.
So even though they may be divisional rivals, Miller said he’s elated to share the same American League All-Star clubhouse with the once highly-touted Garcia, who is in the midst of a breakout season after several years of struggling with the White Sox.
“It kind of feels like a roller coaster,” Miller said. “You have a good inning or a good at-bat or a good day and feel like you have it all figured out and the next time doesn’t go so well and you’re ready to quit. As much physical ability as this game takes, the mental side of it is probably even more important. For most guys it takes time. A lot of times expectations are a little out of whack.”
The baseball world first heard about Garcia when he was dubbed Mini Miggy because of the similarities to then Detroit Tigers-teammate Miguel Cabrera. Garcia then made a name for himself in the 2012 AL championship series when he had five hits and three RBIs against the New York Yankees.
When he arrived on the South Side in 2013, Garcia was touted as a five-tool player with great speed and next-level power. He immediately excelled with the White Sox, hitting .304/.327/.447 in his first 168 plate appearances.
But the next step didn’t arrive until this season and only after several trying years. An April shoulder surgery effectively wiped out Garcia’s 2014 campaign and he produced subpar offensive seasons in 2015 and 2016.
“It’s always great when players experience success right at the beginning because that’s everything you want and you dream about when you come up here,” Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas said. “But in all reality there’s only a few guys that sustain that. We know who they are for the most part. The rest of us have to figure out how to battle and grind it out. That’s part of the beauty of the game.”
“It’s really nice to see guys get comfortable with that and blossom the way he is and tapping into all that talent that everybody can see.”
When Corey Kluber prepares to face Garcia he now sees fewer ways to get him out. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner said Garcia’s talent has always been evident. But now he’s brought more consistency to his plate appearances.
“Each year you can see improvements,” Kluber said. “Guys like him who are a big prospect, there’s a reason why most of the time. Now it’s kind of culminating into having a really good year.
“He may have had a few more holes early on than he has now, but I think there’s always that talent that’s been there.”
Miller agrees -- “we’ve always seen the swing and the ability is there.”
But the Indians reliever thinks the confidence and belief have helped to transform Garcia, who has consistently showed a better plan at the plate. Vargas said Garcia “just wore out” Kansas City’s pitchers earlier this season.
Miller has seen the same from Garcia, too. Even though they’ll be back on the opposite sides of the field soon, Miller will continue to appreciate Garcia from afar for the similarities in their career paths.
“His approach has been really refined this year, whether it’s pitch recognition or laying off a pitch here or there,” Miller said. “He’s been really good.
“He’s shown he can still be the player that maybe people were talking about a couple of years ago. It’s certainly not a knock that it took him a couple years. He’s been holding his own in the major leagues.
“Based on what we’ve seen I would assume he’s going the right direction and is going to be here for a while.”