Thursday, November 8, 2012

Avisail Garcia's Plate Approach

At this point, most people I’ve talked to are very excited about Avisail Garcia’s Major League debut. Having the ability to watch a young, athletic player with a great arm in the outfield, who just so happens to look exactly like the best third basemen in baseball, has been an exciting experience. Unfortunately, I have to be the bearer of bad news. So far, his plate approach has been nothing short of abominable. He has demonstrated a very unusual swing and has an unacceptably poor walk rate.

 He is clearly an exciting prospect, full of tools. It isn’t often that a 6-foot-4, 240-pound base stealing threat comes along. While he flashes the potential to be a legitimate 5-tool major league player, he has a few holes in his game that has serious potential to hamper his career. The first worrying issue with Garcia has been his swing in general. Known this year in the minors as a well-rounded player with above-average power and speed, he does not have an extra base hit in his first 37 Major League plate appearances. While that is not a large sample size, his swing has been worrying. He seems intent to hit everything to the opposite field or up the middle. He also has had a tendency to lunge at every pitch, often reaching for pitches outside the strike zone to take them to the opposite field. This is clearly reflected in his spray chart, with nine batted balls to right field, six up the middle, and only three to left field. This approach works if you have the prodigious power of Miguel Cabrera, but Garcia hasn’t shown it yet. While this is a little unsettling, we shouldn’t be concerned in the long term since he has shown solid power this year in the Minors, hitting 14 home runs 513 Minor League at bats.

The more significant issue with his game currently is his complete lack of plate patience. His career Minor League walk rate has never been above 3.8% in any season. For comparison, Delmon Young has a career 4.1% walk rate, and anyone who says they haven’t been infuriated by Delmon’s approach at time is lying. If he is not capable of not chasing after so-called “pitcher’s pitches”, he will struggle because pitchers won’t be inclined to challenge him in the strike zone. He needs to get walk rate into at least acceptable territory (6%ish), or he’ll have to hit above .300 and be a consistent 20 homer-20 steal guy to be a viable offensive corner outfielder.

The good news is that this year he seems to have figured out something, because his batting average in the minors is the highest in his short professional career. Another positive sign is his career low strikeout rate. This is the first year he’s maintained a strikeout rate below 20% with a large enough sample size to consider the growth legitimate. His BABIP has not fluctuated severely out of the norm for him, even though it is fairly high and can be expected to drop in a full year in the majors. His BABIP this year was .335 at High-A and .357 at AA. While both are high, they match up to previous seasons and, with his speed, they are not that much above the expected norm. He also seems to have found a solid power stroke, posting a career high in isolated power (slugging percentage – batting average), which was at .158 in High-A and .153 in AA, up from .125 the year before.

 I can easily see Garcia not ever develop the plate discipline required to be an above-average regular and could see his BABIP drop closer to the league average. If his development goes in this direction, he’s nothing more than an adequate 4th outfielder. At the same time, I could just as easily see him developing into an above-average corner outfielder in the majors, a legitimate 5 tool player. He’s already shown flashes of his defensive prowess and speed with the Tigers, and I’m fairly confident that his swing will be straightened out in the offseason. If he makes the necessary adjustments, the Tigers will have right field locked down for years to come.

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