Jerry Reindorf's interview on Saturday reinforced the idea that the White Sox aren't taking 2014 lightly, even if they do have an eye on the future. At the same time, it's hard to dream about the postseason when the immediate success of Avisail Garcia factors so heavily into any plans for contention.
The Sox are right to be optimistic about Garcia's future, and he made a terrific first impression as one of the few reasons to tune in during September. But he's still a work in progress, and not just with his hotly contested strike-zone judgment. Even though there aren't the same debates about his defense, that part of his game needs refinement, too.
None of this criticism is particularly hard-hitting on an individual level. For one, it's not unusual for a 22-year-old who has bounced between positions to make his share of mistakes. On top of that, we're talking about partial-season defensive metrics, which can't be given all that much weight for anybody.
We can't judge Garcia from two-month metrics that range from so-so to abysmal. However, when you stack them against the metrics of the other White Sox outfielders ...
|Alejandro De Aza||-2.6||-16||-18|
... you can see why Garcia needs to improve by some considerable amount, at least in the known environment. Right field figures to be a key battleground for the White Sox defense based on the talent on hand. Viciedo and De Aza are what they are, but Garcia is the guy whose performance didn't quite live up to his perceived ceiling. Should the same three outfielders start for the Sox on Opening Day 2014, Garcia will be counted upon to upgrade the outfield defense largely by himself.
(That's one reason why I think Hahn will be looking for a new outfield linchpin. His less-than-convincing vote of confidence for De Aza is another.)
Given time, Garcia can probably live up to his scouting reports, because the tools are there. But going through the film, there wasn't one particular play that gave him problems. His lowlight reel offers plenty of variety.
That sounds concerning, but it could be that his problems merely stem from a lack of continuity. He missed some time with a bruised heel last year, then bounced between positions (center and right) and home ballparks (Toledo and Detroit, Charlotte and Chicago). Those aren't the easier circumstances under which to hone your reactions.
Speed alone wasn't the problem when looking at his first steps. He showed crazy acceleration out of the batter's box, which also gives me a reason to show one of my favorite GIFs of the year:
But it didn't seem to translate to right field as often as he'd like. A few examples ...
Sept. 12 against Cleveland: Garcia can't get in fast enough on a sinking Michael Bourn liner.
Sept. 27 against Kansas City: Garcia loses one step when he's fooled by a ball off the end of Eric Hosmer's bat, then compounds the problem by pulling up when he probably could have made up the ground.
Aug. 12 against Detroit: This is more of a bad angle than a tentative read.
Aug. 25 against Texas: A slow read forces him to play catch-up, which makes him lose track of the wall.
(This is one of the plays that comes to mind when talking about the lack of a consistent home park.)
On the other side of the ledger, Garcia did make several plays of above-average difficulty. He was the anti-Viciedo in that he seemed to be more comfortable on the warning track than anywhere else. He seems to play deep at every sensible opportunity, which would be more effective if he made faster breaks in.
And it's quite possible that improvement is around the corner. So far, he's weathered all the changes and heightened expectations remarkably well, so I'm not wringing my hands over it. I'm more pointing it out to highlight that Garcia has a lot on his plate individually, so it'd probably behoove the Sox to to diminish his importance to the immediate success of larger units, such as "the outfield defense" or "the entire lineup."