Avisail Garcia is catching on

Ed Zurga

Crucial to any quick reconstruction dreams, the rookie is starting to adjust to the first adjustments

It's good to be Avisail Garcia right now. In fact, it would be hard to ask for better.

Garcia went 3-for-4 during the White Sox's 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night. His first three-hit game accounted for 60 percent of the team's output, and extended his hitting streak to seven games. It's been a delight for everybody, including the front office.

Here's what Garcia has done since joining the Sox, compared to the guy he was traded for (Jake Peavy), and the guy he replaced (Alex Rios).

PA 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG
Garcia 55 3 1 0 .341 .386 .463
Rios 42 1 1 0 .268 .286 .341
W-L ERA IP H HR BB K
Peavy 1-1 4.18 23.2 24 3 4 15

Can we say the Sox won that trade?

I kid, of course. That talk is premature, and any sweeping conclusion drawn between now and the end of the year will be equally hasty.

That shouldn't stop us from watching Garcia closely, though. The Sox have won 10 of their last 15, and it's the kind of stretch that has them thinking that 2014 might not be a throwaway season after all. They should be thinking that way because they're professionals, but the Sox will need Garcia's ascension to Good Everyday Playerdom to have a puncher's chance of reversing their record.

So far, Garcia is allowing everybody to dream a little bit. It's not just that his numbers are great, because a lot of guys can string together an awesome 55 plate appearances. I just don't get the impression that it's blind luck. He's aggressive, sure, but he's not out of control.

Here are the pitches Garcia has swung at in his Sox career (entering Tuesday):

Garcia-swinging_medium

Now compare to that to known hacker Josh Phegley:

Phegley-swing_medium

You can make just about anybody look like Eddie Yost when you compare them to Phegley, but since Garcia came to the Sox with a worrisome combination of a high swing rate and low contact rate at Triple-A, he could have looked way more out of sorts than he has.

We might see that at some point, but some tricks haven't fooled him so far. In fact, Garcia came through with a pair of singles on Tuesday after taking a pair of setup pitches intended to throw him off.

  • First at-bat: Chin-music fastball, slider just below the knees.
  • Second at-bat: Slider off the plate, fastball up and in.

Garcia didn't hammer them -- the first single was a flare off the end of the bat, and he muscled the second single into center. But he was effective enough in both covering the zone and adjusting for the difference in speeds, and that's a heartening start. He could be thinking along with pitchers, or it might be more because his reaction time is incredible, but either one would be an asset to work with.

More importantly, Tuesday was the third straight game in which he pulled a ball in the air to left field. Before Saturday, that element had been missing from his game, as his spray chart showed:

Garcia-saturday_medium

(And the green dot in shallow left was a hard grounder through the left side.)

He's started to populate that area over the last three days. On Saturday, he pulled Andrew Albers' poor attempt at a sinker down the left field line. On Sunday, he hammered a Sad Samuel Deduno cutter out of Josh Willingham's reach for a double. And on Tuesday, he pulled Aaron Crow's first-pitch hanging slider for a hard single that could've left the park with a touch more lift.

I think it'd be a stretch if one said Garcia "turned on" any of those pitches, because that brings to mind a hitter bringing in his hands and flying open to whip a pitch that would jam most hitters. That's not quite the case, though that could be a good thing.

Garcia won't have to pull the ball all that much, because he clearly can drive the ball to right field. The first double he hit off Deduno on Sunday was a knee-high cutter on the outer half, and the way right fielder Wilkin Ramirez tracked it suggested it had an unusual amount of carry and slice to it. Garcia's not a guy who hits oppo flies because his bat speed is on the slower side (Jordan Danks comes to mind) -- he's intent on punishing the ball that way.

That could change as Garcia and the league's pitchers get accustomed to each other, but if that's his default approach, that's cool. There are some very good hitters who don't pull the ball in the air much -- we've just seen two of them, Joe Mauer and Billy Butler. They can turn on a pitch if the opportunity presents itself, but most of the time they're comfortable keeping their hands back and going to the other gap.

Mauer is proooooooobably out of the question, but if Garcia ever reached Butler's level as a hitter while playing a good corner outfield, I imagine the Sox would be ecstatic.

Garcia just has a long way to go before he even approaches Butler territory, because Butler has a much more extensive history of picking his pitches. In the meantime, Garcia could use some slugging/isolated power to make up for an unimpressive OBP, and while U.S. Cellular Field invites righties to sneak flies into the Bullpen Sports Bar, homers are a lot easier to come by to the pull field.

He doesn't have to be Miggy Smalls and magically pull fastballs that are six inches inside -- I just want to see him rope some inner-half hangers and not-in-enough fastballs to left, and maybe get some backspin and loft on a few. In his first week, we saw pitchers pound him with fastballs inside, and when he can't barrel them up, it diminishes that opposite-field drive into a flimsier inside-out approach (see: Viciedo, Dayan).

If he can cover that, then pitchers will investigate whether Garcia is compensating by opening a flaw elsewhere. Right now, he's seeing fastballs about 65 percent of the time, which is tops among active White Sox by far. Phegley is seeing the fewest fastballs by an equally noteworthy margin, and you know how well that's working for him these days. Garcia will see a similar amount of junk at some point, and if those don't ultimately faze him, a White Sox revival in 2014 might not be so far-fetched. In the meantime, he's giving us plenty to pay attention to before 2013 runs out.

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