Avisail Garcia isn't on the defensive as he enters the spring training before his second full season. Rick Hahn and Todd Steverson are taking up that mantle, while Garcia has opted for rather general expressions of self-confidence.
Both rebuttals draw from the same source material: He's just 24 years old, and he only has one healthy MLB season under his belt. Yet there are some fundamental flaws under his game that hamper his potential -- a nasty combination of poor plate discipline and self-limiting swing mechanics that prevent him from tapping into his raw might.
The Sox tried to address the latter this winter, as Steverson and Garcia reworked the stance over the winter.
Although they don’t see it as a radical change, last month, the White Sox started to work with Garcia to stand taller in the box. They think he’ll need time to adjust to and get comfortable with the alterations. But if the plan works, the White Sox are confident Garcia can eliminate some of the inconsistencies that dominated his 2015 campaign. [...]
"We’re working to get better because last year I was down then up," Garcia said late last month. "This year I am focused to be tall and being patient and swinging at strikes. When I swing at strikes, I can hit like the start of the season."
We finally got a chance to get a look at this new stance during the Cactus League opener on Thursday, and he did show a different look -- until he swung, at least.
It took a surprising amount of time for the latter to happen. Clayton Kershaw struck him out looking at three pitches, each one nastier than the one that preceded it. The second strike was a breaking ball below the zone, followed by a fastball that shaved the corner for the punchout.
He then watched the first two pitches of his at-bat against Yimi Garcia, including a slider strike that he (rightfully) disagreed with.
At this point, Garcia did look different.
Compared to last season, Garcia is indeed standing a bit taller, with his bat on his shoulder and his hands closer to his body.
There's still a bit of a difference as the pitcher is rearing back to fire, because Garcia is loading up a little more himself. The bat comes up and the knees flex, which is a big difference from last season, where he remained pretty much motionless. You can see it better in GIF form, from 2015 ...
... to his first stance of 2016:
But, at least for now, the swings reconvene once the pitch comes in, at least on these outer-half hangers. On the one from last year, he hit a Randy Wolf roller to the warning track in right:
On Thursday, he was late on a spinning Yimi Garcia slider and sliced it into foul territory, just beyond the reach of a sliding Corey Brown.
The flat follow-through remains intact. Avisail Garcia ended up grounding out to third on the next pitch, a fastball in. In the fifth, he bounced out to second on a sinker low and away. Throw in a couple of chase strikes and a questionable route on a flyball to right, and it was a very 2015 Avisail Garcia day all around.
One day won't decide whether all of his offseason work was for naught. It's the first game after a five-month layoff, and even Jose Abreu struck out twice (knocking him well off the .508 pace he set last year). It could take weeks for it to catch on if it does, so at this point, the goal is to establish a baseline reflecting the changes he's made, and make guesses about his chances of flipping the switch as we go.
The goal remains the same: flyballs to left field on a more regular basis, because the flatness of his swing resulted in way too many grounders. When sizing up his 2016 debut against Robin Ventura's initial assessment, our first look meets his description from the center-field camera angle, for better or for worse:
"The mechanics of it are a little different,’’ Ventura said. "You can see him sitting down a little. I think his bat is a little flatter as far as starting going through the zone, which is going to help him maintain that barrel through the zone a little longer. Whether he hits it as much, he’s going to be able to foul stuff off, stay alive a little more and give himself more chances.’’