Avisail Garcia is a former top prospect who has yet to succeed in over 1,500 career plate appearances. He's also only 25 years old.
On Saturday, Garcia flashed the potential that four years ago made him the centerpiece of a three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox that shipped right-hander Jake Peavy to Boston before the trade deadline. Garcia fell a double shy of the cycle, slammed a 431-foot home run and drove in three runs to pace the White Sox to a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Twins in front of 23,024 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Garcia's home run banged off the yet-to-grow ivy vines on the center field batter's eye, his single fell in front of Twins right fielder Max Kepler and his triple sailed over the outstretched glove of center fielder Byron Buxton in right-center field. That those three hits came up the middle and the other way wasn't a coincidence given the White Sox have worked with Garcia on tailoring his approach to aim for those areas of the field.
"I'm just trying to put my hands more inside and not try to do too much," Garcia said. "Try to put the ball in play, you know, try to see the ball -- I've been missing fastballs because my head was a little bit off. But I'm working to feel better, and I had a good game today so I just gotta keep working and see what happens tomorrow."
Garcia's .682 OPS from 2015-2016 was the 12th lowest among qualified hitters, behind mostly light-hitting defensive-minded infielders like Kansas City's Alcides Escobar, Pittsburgh's Jordy Mercer and Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria. Those players all generated value because of their above-average to excellent defense; Garcia's -0.6 WAR in 2015 and 2016 was the fourth lowest in the majors due to both poor offense and poor defense.
So it'll take more than one positive game or one strong week for Garcia to cement himself as a contributor for the rebuilding White Sox. But the optimist's view of things is that Garcia, again, is only 25 years old and has previously had success doing what the White Sox in 2017 want him to do at the plate.
Twenty-four of Garcia's 40 career home runs have gone out to center field (as his did Saturday) and right field (where his triple went). He entered Saturday with a .952 OPS on balls hit to center field and a .959 OPS on balls hit to right field. When pulling the ball, his OPS is just .710 and about three of every four balls in play are on the ground.
Manager Rick Renteria said the White Sox have been working on getting Garcia to barrel up more pitches, leading to the center/right-field approach. Focusing on hitting up the middle and the other way is a good way to more hard-hit balls out of anyone, but for Garcia, it may be a more pronounced goal given it plays to his strengths as a hitter.
"I know people talk about homers as being something you can create," Renteria said. "I guess that's debatable. But when guys put the barrel on the baseball, his size, maybe you have a particular loft in your swing, it can generate a homer. You don't have to always hit homers to the pull side, obviously. But you've got to hit first. And I think that's what he's focusing on right now."
It's worth noting, too, that Garcia's first hit -- the triple -- came with a 3-2 count. Focusing on shortening up a swing and trying to hit to center or the opposite field is a natural two-strike approach, and the ball exploded off Garcia's bat and into the gap in the second inning.
"He's finding when he chokes up a little bit with two strikes, it allows the ball to travel a little bit deeper," Renteria said. "He's a strong man. If he puts the barrel on the baseball it has a chance to travel and it happened today."
Four games are hardly enough to make any long-term projections about where Garcia's numbers will wind up in 2017. A year ago, his OPS peaked at .827 on May 9, and that was through 100 plate appearances (he finished the year with a .692 OPS in 453 plate appearances).
But while the overall numbers haven't been there for Garcia, he's shown he can be an effective hitter when he focuses on going up the middle or the opposite way. If he's able to stick with that approach -- throughout all the in-season adjustments opposing pitchers inevitably will make -- perhaps a guy who's both young and experienced will have a chance to improve in the longer term.
"You just gotta see the ball and hit it," Garcia said. "The homers are gonna come. I know I have power. As a hitter we just don't want to do too much and put the ball in play. I think we have to just hit the ball and try to make contact."