After a career year in 2017 and his first All-Star appearance, maybe Avisail Garcia has done enough to keep himself in the White Sox long-term plans.
But there was plenty of mystery over whether Garcia, who finally broke out after four mostly middling seasons on the South Side, could do it again this season. That question doesn’t have an answer right now, even nearly two months into the 2018 campaign, as Garcia begins his fifth week on the disabled list. His hamstring strain is serious enough that the White Sox announced over the weekend that he likely won’t be back in action until late June.
“No one likes to be injured, especially position players (who are used to) playing every day,” Garcia said Tuesday. “I don’t like to watch the game. I mean, I like it, but I like it when I’m playing. So it is what it is. I’m just watching, learning more because we’re learning every single day.
“It felt like it was going to be two weeks, but it’s taking longer. No one likes that, you know? No people like injuries. It is what it is, and I won’t try to take it too hard, just work hard and put everything together to come back to the field.”
This season figured to be an important one for Garcia, who is under team control through the 2019 season, slated to hit the free-agent market ahead of the 2020 campaign, the year many are looking at as the one where the White Sox ongoing rebuilding process will yield to contention. Will Garcia be around for that contention?
His 2018 production was supposed to go a long way toward answering that question. Perhaps a strong season could’ve earned him a new contract and locked him into place as the team’s future right fielder. Perhaps a fast start could’ve made him a potential midseason trade candidate and fetched a prospect or two that would’ve helped advance the rebuild.
Instead, Garcia started slow, as he’ll readily admit. His numbers aren’t at all good through his first 18 games of the season. He owns a .233/.250/.315 slash line, nowhere close to the .330/.380/.506 line he posted last year, when he was statistically one of the American League’s best hitters.
“Slow start, slow start,” he said. “I was feeling better a couple games before I got the injury. I was seeing the ball better, but baseball is like that. Sometimes you start good, sometimes you start slow, so it is what it is. We’ve gotta make adjustments as a team and try to get better every single day.
“But you know, that happens, I’ve just got to come back now and make adjustments and help my team win.”
A starting spot in the White Sox outfield of the future is anything but assured for any player these days. In addition to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert owning some of the highest prospect rankings in the game, guys like Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford and Luis Alexander Basabe have put up some impressive minor league numbers so far this season.
With all those youngsters doing what they’re doing, is there a place for Garcia? Or even if he were to produce well over the next two seasons, would the White Sox want to spend money to bring back a veteran when they have so many high-ceiling, low-cost players waiting in the wings?
It’s hard to answer those questions right now. Not only is it still early enough for Garcia’s fortune at the plate to change dramatically between now and the offseason, but his injury status throws a new wrinkle in the mix. Maybe it ends up making the White Sox decision easier than it would have been had Garcia’s performance been the lone factor here.
But for Garcia, 2018 remains about showing that he can replicate what he did a year ago. If he can’t — for whatever reason — maybe the keys to the outfield of the future get completely placed in the hands of those current minor leaguers. Until he returns from this injury, though, it's all a waiting game.
And that’s why you always run hard to first base.
Rick Renteria didn’t use a one-armed man to teach his team a lesson Monday night, but he used a relatively extreme measure, benching one of his few veteran players to send a message that lack of hustle won’t be tolerated on this rebuilding White Sox team.
In fact, it won’t be tolerated anywhere in this rebuilding White Sox organization.
That’s the hope, at least.
Welington Castillo stood at home plate while his popup fell into the first baseman’s glove during the sixth inning of Monday night’s loss to the visiting Baltimore Orioles, and because of it he didn’t go back out with his teammates for the seventh inning. It was the latest in-game benching by Renteria for a similar offense. Avisail Garcia was sat down during spring training, and Leury Garcia at the end of the team’s previous homestand.
This kind of reoccurring strategy might seem a tad strange, a manager enforcing hustle regulations to pro players during a season in which his team entered play Tuesday with baseball’s worst record. But part of rebuilding and development is establishing a cultural identity, and Castillo seemed on board with Renteria’s strategy, as well as the end goal of these punishments.
“That’s something that he always says, that’s something that he’s not going to let pass,” Castillo said Tuesday. “He always says you’ve got to run the bases hard no matter what. And for some reason, I was just frustrated, I wanted to get the job done. I saw the ball was going to be fair, and for some reason I did not run. I think that the decision that he made was the right decision. That’s not me, and I’m not going to do it again.”
Castillo was brought in this past offseason to provide some veteran experience to what is otherwise a very young squad of South Siders. Coming off career years both offensively and defensively, Castillo seemed to be an addition that would benefit this club in the short and long term. He could be here all the way through the 2020 season, when the White Sox could see their talented minor leaguers arrive and open the organization’s contention window.
And therein lies the importance of what Renteria did Monday. Castillo would figure to be veteran enough to be past such punishments. But if he buys in to Renteria’s style and passes it along to the young guys when they come up, then Renteria will have achieved what he wanted: for this to be the standard of the present and the future.
“The same rule that is for the young guys is for the veteran guys, too,” Castillo said. “We are a team, we are a family. One thing is for me, and the same thing has to be for everybody because we are a family, we are a team. Sometimes that’s good that that happens, and we’ve just got to learn from that.”
“We’re trying to eliminate habits if they’re there. Accidents you understand, but we’re trying to continue to create the identity of the White Sox organization as to how we’re going to go about doing things,” Renteria said. “They accept it, they understand it, and when we take an action I think for the most part they are accountable to what goes on.”