Brewers: The Curious Case of Avisaìl Garcia

We just started covering the Brewers this past week here at the Dugout when we expanded our coverage into the Milwaukee market, so I figured I’d dip my toes into the Milwaukee waters by writing about someone I’m very familiar with: former White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia.

Garcia isn’t just a former White Sox outfielder, he’s a former top-prospect that headlined the three-team, six-player trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, Jose Iglesias to Detroit, and Garcia, Frankie Montas, J.B. Wendelken, and Cleuluis Rondon to Chicago in July of 2013. The White Sox ended up shipping Montas and Wendelken to Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade a couple of years later, but kept Garcia who was tabbed by many as “the next Miguel Cabrera” when he was in the Detroit farm system.

It’s necessary to revisit the hype around Garcia at the time of this trade to understand the disappointing — and often times bewildering — lack of production out of Garcia in Chicago.

Garcia made his way to the major-league level in 2012 when he played 23 games for the Tigers as a late-season addition to the roster, coincidentally making his debut against the White Sox as a defensive replacement. He would start the next two days in right field against the Sox, collecting three hits in seven at-bats, while picking up a walk and an RBI.

The rest of his September was modest, at-best, even for a 21-year old rookie. He went 15-47 (.319), and picked up three RBI, three walks, and scored 15 runs. It was good enough to earn him an extended look with Detroit in 2013 after being called up in mid-May. It was also enough for the White Sox to view Garcia as the crown-jewel of their return in the Peavy trade later that summer.

Now, in addition to understanding the hype surrounding him, you also need to understand that prior to the 2016 rebuilding efforts in Chicago, the White Sox were notorious for having an atrocious farm and scouting department.

So when Garcia slashed .304/.327/.447 and hit five home runs while driving in 21 runs over the course of 42 games in 2013, fans anointed him the next best thing on the Southside of Chicago. To be fair, the White Sox featured a lineup consisting of Conor Gillaspie, Gordon Beckham, Jeff Keppinger, and an aging Paul Konerko in the twilight of his career in 2013. We were desperate for a hero, and Garcia fit the bill.

How did we get from there, to here, where the Brewers landed Garcia for two years (there’s a team option for a third if things pan out) on a modest $20 million deal? Injuries, inconsistency, and in fairness to Garcia, a bit of a poor evaluation by a scouting department that made a practice of it.

It’s not Garcia’s fault that the White Sox evaluated — or drank the Kool-Aid — him as the next Miguel Cabrera. This is why comps are dangerous, and quite frankly, useless. How can you compare a 21-year-old kid to a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in the prime of his historic career, and then look at him like he screwed up when he doesn’t reach the overwhelming expectations set for him?

Garcia’s injury woes started early during his time in Chicago when he tore his labrum diving in an effort to rob D.J. Lemahieu of a hit in an early-season contest in Colorado.

Photo: Doug Pensinger

Garcia was hitting .276/.323/.483 at the time of the injury. Garcia was healthy in 2015, playing in 148 games, but his season — production-wise — was a major disappointment (89 OPS+).

Many chalked the sub-par 2015 up to “recovering from his injury”, and washed their hands of it. Then Garcia posted an identical OPS+ of 89, and played in only 120 games as the injury bug hit him again in 2016.

After the White Sox shipped Chris Sale to Boston for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander-Basabe and Victor Diaz, and then Adam Eaton to Washington for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning — many thought that Garcia’s days were numbered in Chicago.

The start of the rebuild marked a new era and a long-overdue fresh start for White Sox baseball, and an oft-injured and underperforming Garcia just didn’t seem to fit into the puzzle.

In 2017 — with his support dwindling — he set career-highs in average (.330), runs (75), home runs (18) and RBIs (80), earned a trip to Miami for the MLB All-Star Game, and finished the season with a career-high OPS+ of 138.

Problem is, his .391 BABIP led baseball, and led some to believe that there was a degree of luck to his newfound success. With concerns about consistency and durability still abound — and Eloy Jimenez acquired that summer — 2018 was going to be Garcia’s “prove-it” season for the White Sox.

In 2018 Eloy Jimenez went full scorched-earth on every sliver of minor league pitching thrown his way, and Garcia played only 35 games in the first half of 2018. and finished the season with a dismal slash line of 236/.281/.438, sealing his fate on the Southside. The combination of Jimenez’s lightning-quick rise through the system, and Garcia’s injuries and inconsistency flaring up again sealed the former top prospect fate with the White Sox.

That winter the White Sox decided to non-tender Garcia, who was due for an estimated $8.0 million according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Now 28, Garcia is coming off a strong year with the Tampa Bay Rays where he slashed .282/.332/.464 with 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases over 125 games, and hoping to finally string together a pair of healthy and consistent seasons.

If and when the 2020 Major League Baseball season starts, Garcia is likely to see a heavy amount of time in left field for the first time in his career, a move that will allow Ryan Braun to move to first base.

In the end, Garcia still has the talent — and the years left before age forces an inevitable decline — to become a good-to-very-good everyday ballplayer in Milwaukee. He’ll never be the all-world stud that people tabbed him as when he was first breaking into the major-leagues, but that wasn’t fair to him to begin with.

If Garcia can stay healthy and take advantage of the more favorable hitting environment that Miller Park will provide him with, Garcia will make David Stearns look pretty good for snagging him at a team-friendly price, even after a solid 2019 campaign.

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