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Deep Dive: Leury García’s Past, Present and Future with the White Sox

After the Nick Madrigal trade, the Legend was the best second baseman on the White Sox roster.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox
Seen here rounding the bases, Leury García enjoyed a big moment, hitting the longest homer of his career, in this year’s ALDS.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

This post is the fourth section of the White Sox second base Deep Dive, which will go into detail Leury García’s history with the Sox through 2020, a look at his 2021 season, and briefly illumine the other second base options on the White Sox roster.

Leury García — how did he get here?

Signed by the Texas Rangers from the Dominican Republic all the way back in 2007 when he was just 16, García was a slick-fielding shortstop with the reputation of being a good runner but a little skimpy with the bat.

After slashing just .232/.288/.288 with A-level Hickory in 2009, García returned to the Crawdads for 2010 and hit .262 and stole 47 bases in just 89 games. His bat continued to improve in 2011 (A+ Myrtle Beach) and 2012 (Double-A Frisco) where he continued to swipe bases and hit respectably. After starting the 2013 season well with Triple-A Round Rock and scuffling a bit in his rookie season with the Rangers, García was traded to the White Sox on August 9 for outfielder Alex Rios.

John Sickels of Minor League Baseball wrote at the time, “García’s legs and glove will keep him on the fringes of the majors for several years, but bench work is his fate without unusual development with the bat. Players with this profile sometimes surprise us with hitting spikes in their late 20s, but generally that happens for guys who always made contact but just weren’t strong enough to drive the ball. In García’s case, his lack of strength in addition to shaky plate discipline and a high whiff rate augers poorly for his future.”

García did indeed hover in the periphery in the majors during the 2013-16 seasons, hitting a combined .187 in just 128 games, as he spent the majority of that time with Charlotte due primarily to his bat. The 2017 season finally saw García receive significant playing time with the White Sox and he ran with it, slashing .270/.316/.423 in 87 games with 15 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 33 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 13 walks (4.0%) and 69 strikeouts (21.2%). In 2018 playing all positions except first base and catcher, his numbers tailed off a bit as he slashed .271/.303/.376 in 82 games with seven doubles, four triples, four homers, 32 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, nine walks (3.3%) and 69 strikeouts (25.1%).

With a team in dire need of production from its center fielders and right fielders in 2019, García played far more than he should have. In 140 games totaling 577 at-bats with the White Sox, he slashed .279/.310/.378 with 27 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 40 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 21 walks (3.4%) and 139 strikeouts. (22.5%) Limited to 16 games in an already shortened 2020 due to a thumb sprain suffered sliding headfirst (again!) into first base, he slashed .271/.317/.441 with one double, three homers, four walks (6.3%) and nine strikeouts (14.3%).

Leury García’s 2021

With numerous injuries throughout the diamond this season, García was an extremely vital player on the White Sox roster in 2021. In 126 games totaling 474 at-bats, he slashed .267/.335/.376 with 22 doubles, four triples, five homers, 54 RBIs, six stolen bases, 41 walks (8.6%), 97 strikeouts (20.5%) and a 98 wRC+. Excluding the season-shortened 2020, García set career bests in walk and strikeout rates while tying his career in wRC+. While not great in any area, he continued to play adequate (if not better) defense wherever he was asked. Position-by-position, these are the innings he played defensively this year:

  • Second base: 277 23
  • Right field: 235
  • Center field: 164 13
  • Shortstop: 156 13
  • Left field: 110 13
  • Third base: 74

Needless to say, García’s ability to play numerous defensive positions was a lifesaver for the White Sox in 2021.

In comparison with previous years, García’s best offensive success this year came against off-speed pitches, to the tune of a .318/.323/.435 slash line. While he actually possessed a slightly better XBA versus fastballs when compared against those of the off-speed variety, he slashed .272/.338/.345 against them. Finally, García struggled the most against breaking pitches, with .217/.245/.302 line. It was difficult to align defenses against him because of his uncanny ability to use all fields (pull 34.9%, straight 39.8% and opposite field 25.3%). Like many hitters on the team, García had difficulty lofting the ball, as evidenced by a 56.9% ground ball rate. It is interesting to note that despite his career-high walk percentage, García actually swung at the first pitch more than 40% of the time.

Often when asked to play multiple positions, a player’s defensive rating goes down the gutter due to a lack of consistency at each position. In García’s case, he was a defensive liability in the outfield and shortstop but an asset at second and third. Baseball-Reference gave him a -0.1 defensive rating, which really isn’t bad considering his incredible versatility. When factoring his offense and defense together, García posted a career-best 2.0 bWAR, which was actually quite good when considering his league-average wRC+ of 99. Considering each WAR is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market and he only earned $3.5 million in 2021, García provided the White Sox with a surplus value of $11.9 million.

What does the future have in store for García and the White Sox at second base?

For the first time in his career, the 30-year-old García is to become a free agent. If he could find a starting gig, perhaps for some lower-division squad, it wouldn’t be a bit surprising for him to sign elsewhere. However, due to his age and being typecast as a utility player, it seems more likely that he’ll receive offers more akin to that type of role. With García being one of Tony La Russa’s favorite players, the odds may be in Leury’s favor to re-sign with the Sox.

Even if García does re-sign, he likely won’t be considered the full-time option at second base or anywhere else on the diamond — his value is largely based upon his defensive versatility, which would be compromised with a starting gig.

The White Sox have a $6 million club option on César Hernández, and as mentioned by South Side Sox’s Rachael Millanta, the team may decline it due to his poor post-trade play. The best internal options at this time include Romy González, who enjoyed a 20-20 season with Birmingham and burned up Charlotte in a brief stayover, but struggled in his cup of coffee with the Sox. Danny Mendick is an option as well, but with a relatively weak bat, should be relegated to reserve status. Another option could be Yolbert Sánchez, who is an outstanding defender but has played fewer than 30 games above High-A ball.

Otherwise, numerous free agent options abound, which will be detailed in tomorrow’s Deep Dive post.