Look at the rumors for the White Sox. They concern a certain part of the team. Though the club is ostensibly starting Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, and Avisail Garcia in the outfield, they’re supposedly looking for another outfielder now. Given their respective projections, that makes things particularly awkward for Avisail Garcia.
That’s not really the only thing that’s unsettling about Garcia’s situation.
On the way up, Garcia was always supposed to have the physical tools to succeed. Though his power numbers didn’t wow — he had a minor-league isolated slugging percentage of .119, or more than 30 points below major-league average — the body suggested that he would hit for more power later. He wasn’t great at discerning balls and strikes, but he might hit his way out of that problem. His defense wasn’t great, but the speed suggested he had what he needed to be good in the outfield.
Much of this dreaming hasn’t come to fruition in reality.
He’s the 11th-worst defender over the last three years, by UZR. The plate discipline has been bad. It hasn’t gotten better. He’s 24th-worst batter by strikeouts minus walks since he entered the league. Only Chris Johnson and Brandon Barnes have produced a worse ISO while also exhibiting a similar lack of plate discipline, and those guys are out of a regular job. The rest all had way more power than Garcia.
And so, it’s really the power that is at the core of the problem. If he showed the power, the plate discipline wouldn’t be a problem, and the defense would be less important, and he could be a regular, a league-average guy, just with some flaws. The White Sox could focus on the other corner outfielder if they were looking for an upgrade. If he showed the power, we could stop talking about his upside, and his future. He’d at least be a little better than Dayan Viciedo.
The problem, when it comes to Garcia’s power, is that he doesn’t pull the ball enough. Or he doesn’t show enough power. Put another way: the players who spray the ball as much as Garcia, but have shown the same isolated power so far, don’t provide an exciting road map for his future.
Look at Garcia’s comps when it comes to pull percentage (Pull%), isolated power, and batted ball mix (GB/FB). It’s not a group that suggests his future is bright.
Speaking of Jason Kipnis, he’s tantalized with power before, only to prefer a line-drive, all-fields approach most years. He’s basically the best-case scenario for this group, and it makes you wonder if some of these guys wouldn’t be served better by pulling the ball more, for more power.
I asked Kipnis that once. I asked him if he wasn’t giving back power by going oppo so often. He thought that this was only a concern among “people that don’t play baseball, people that don’t win games.” He thought the choice was clear for a player of his ilk: “Either you could hit .280 with 10-12 homers or .330 with 6-8,” he said last summer. “I’d rather be the 6-8 guy. I’ve been ignoring the home run category.”
Of course, among this grouping, Kipnis hits more fly balls than average, and has shown a better isolated slugging percentage than average. Joey Votto once talked about this phenomenon when he said “I hit the ball hard.” Kipnis hits the ball hard, and so his all-fields approach works.
In fact, if you look at that list above, all of the players who have an isolated slugging percentage of league average or better hit the ball hard, especially to the opposite field. Eric Hosmer has the ninth-highest exit velocity to the opposite field in all of baseball. Robinson Cano is 42nd, Kipnis is 62nd.
The White Sock ranks 119th among a sample of 226 who’ve recorded 50 balls in play to the opposite field. It’s just not enough power to make the approach work, especially when paired with poor plate discipline and defense.
With the way that batted ball distance ages, even the fact that Garcia is only 24 doesn’t speak strongly to his upside in this category. He was 165th in home run and fly ball batted ball distance, among 284 qualifiers.
Avisail Garcia is not hitting the ball far, and he’s not hitting the ball hard. He’s hitting the ball on the ground, and he’s past the age where that sort of thing improves noticeably. It’s nice that he sprays the ball, and that he looks like an athletic guy, but almost everything else points to an uncomfortable situation for the young Chicago outfielder.
If the White Sox don’t get an upgrade in the outfield this season, and Garcia doesn’t change his batted ball mix in the upcoming season, we will hear these rumors all over again next offeason, except there won’t be anyone wondering about what Garcia can do for them anymore.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.