White Sox

White Sox: Avisail Garcia's approach playing to his strengths

White Sox: Avisail Garcia's approach playing to his strengths

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."

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits


White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

When the White Sox drafted Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft he was known as an elite contact hitter who could play good defense on the infield.

In nearly a year in the minors, that has mostly held true, but not exactly according to plan. Madrigal raced through three levels of the minors in 2018 and hit .303 in 43 games between those three stops. He only had five strikeouts.

This season has not gone as smoothly. Madrigal is hitting .261 for Single-A Winston-Salem, but he still isn’t striking out much at all. In fact, according to a write-up on Milb.com, Madrigal leads of all minor league baseball with a 3.3 percent strikeout rate.

“Madrigal has plus speed, and that should lead to more hits as his sample increases, but he'll have to hit a lot more to provide value from his specific profile,” Sam Dykstra wrote.

So what’s with Madrigal not hitting for higher average? How can a batter strikeout so rarely and not find more hits?

White Sox director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, one of the key decision makers in drafting Madrigal, talked about Madrigal’s progress on an episode of the White Sox Talk podcast earlier this week.

“The one thing he’s still doing is making contact,” Hostetler said. “So that is what we expected. We expected that out of him. I’m not sure he was probably expecting the streaks. I think he’s dealt with a lot of streaks in his offensive game this year. I think he had one stretch that was 0-for-16 or 17 and he came back with a couple hits. So he’s been a little streaky this year. But I think he’s starting to learn. He’s starting to develop. He’s had one home run. He’s starting to hit some doubles, but he’s starting to learn to get the ball in the air a little bit. He’s learning how teams are shifting him, how they’re playing him.”

The shifts Hostetler referred to are another interesting part of Madrigal’s unusual profile. He is actually going to opposite field more than pulling the ball down left field and opposing defenses are playing him accordingly. That could be one reason to explain why Madrigal isn’t getting more hits out of all the balls he is putting in play.

He is showing a bit more power this year as opposed to last year (11 extra base hits vs. 7 in only 10 more plate appearances). His spray charts for 2018 and 2019 show he is pulling the ball more than he used to, a sign that he is adjusting.

2018 spray chart:

2019 spray chart:

Note that Madrigal has more balls resulting in hits getting pulled down the left field side than he had last year. As defenses are shifting him to hit the ball to opposite field, as Hostetler noted, this will be a key part of his development.

He is showing progress in other areas. He is drawing more walks (14 this season vs. 7 last year) and is showing off his speed with 12 stolen bases.

Hostetler isn’t pushing the panic button on Madrigal.

“This is part of development,” Hostetler said. “Unfortunately the new wave we’re in everybody thinks ‘well, they’re a college guy and he’s drafted so high he needs to hit like this and go right away and be there in a year.’ Some guys just take a little bit.

“The one thing I’ll say is the defense has been exactly what we thought it would be. It’s Gold Glove caliber defense and he’s making contact. As long as he keeps making contact, keep fielding those balls like he is, he’ll figure out the rest.”


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Eloy Jimenez is starting to show off his big power

Eloy Jimenez is starting to show off his big power

It appears Eloy Jimenez is heating up.

The White Sox rookie outfielder didn’t get off to a great start this season, but he showed flashes of his potential. Then, he went down with injury and missed more than three weeks.

After going 0-for-7 in his first two games back from injury, Jimenez broke out with two home runs on Wednesday. He followed that up with another bomb on Thursday in a 4-0 win in Houston.

The fact that Jimenez stringing home runs together wasn't the big story of the game is a testament to Lucas Giolito's impressive outing on the mound.

Jimenez now has as many home runs in the four games since coming back from injury (3) as he had in his first 21 games before going down. That’s far too small of a sample size to say the time off did anything productive for Jimenez, but the 22-year-old is showing the power he was known for in the minors.

Overall, Jimenez is hitting .234/.280/.447. The average and on-base percentage are lower than expected considering he was a career .311 hitter in the minors. However, eight of his 22 hits in the majors have gone for extra bases, with six of those being home runs.

Thursday’s home run went 414 feet after he blasted shots of 419 and 417 feet the night before.

He also had some fun with the camera in the dugout and then had some fun in the field by celebrating a diving catch with a laugh.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.