No. 2: Avisail Garcia, OF
Editor's Note: There has been much discussion over whether Rondon or Garcia deserves to be #2 on this list. Personally, I think you could flip-flop the two, and it wouldn't bother me. There was no question in my mind who deserved to be #1, as you'll see tomorrow, but between Rondon and Garcia I had my inner arguments. At the end, I guess it boiled down to this: Avisail Garcia has the potential to be an impact, everyday right fielder. Rondon has the potential to be a truly dominating, shutdown closer. Which one of those two would carry more value over the course of a season? Which one would benefit the Tigers more (should they both reach their potential, which is far from a certainty)? I'm far from a "saber" guy, as my background is in the coaching area of the game. I don't think a printout from a computer can tell you everything about a player, but if you want to get all "saber-y" with this, would an above-average every RF or a closer lend more to a team's success? Even for as old school as I may be when it comes to baseball, the answer is simple: The everyday player. That, my friends, is why you see Garcia over Rondon on this list.
Avisail Garcia was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela (no way!!) in 2007. He made his debut with the Tigers' Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) team as a 17 year old in 2008. In the 2008 season, Garcia made 263 plate appearances, posting a .791 OPS with a 14.8 K% and 5.7 BB%. A very nice season, from any perspective. In 2009, the Tigers very aggressively assigned Garcia, then 18, to Class A-West Michigan following an excellent performance in extended spring training. He struggled some vs the advanced pitching of A-ball, but it can be said that he held his own. Over 315 plate appearances with the Whitecaps, Garcia posted a .613 OPS (bad, yes, but he WAS 18 in his first time playing stateside), with a 22.3 K% (pretty bad) and a 2.5 BB% (absolutely abysmal). Regardless, the Tigers were very pleased with the progress Garcia made in 2009 despite the numbers. In 2010, Garcia was sent back to Class A-West Michigan for another go around, and he improved in nearly every facet of the game. He made nearly 200 more plate appearances in 2010 than in 2009, improved his batting average by 15 points, his OBP by 25 points, and his SLG% by more than 30 points. The end result was still a subpar OPS of .669, but the improvements were evident. He still struck out too much (21.5%) and didn't walk nearly enough (3.8%), but as you can see, the improvements were truly across the board, and that's not even including the fact that he stoles 20 bases in 2010 as well. Garcia headed to Class A Advanced-Lakeland in 2011, and at 20 years old was quite young for the level. While at Lakeland, we finally started to see the plus power that had been raved about for years. Garcia, while still struggling with strikeouts and overall OBP, smashed 16 doubles, 6 triples, and 11 home runs in addition to stealing 14 bases as well. His raw numbers still weren't great, as only posted a .686 OPS, but the overall set of tools had finally begun to come together, priming him for the breakout season that 2012 was. Over two levels in 2012 (Advanced-A and Double-A), Garcia accrued 513 plate appearances and posted a slash line of .299/.333/.455/.789 with 14 HR's and 23 SB's. As well are all well aware, Garcia was called up in September of 2012, and contributed down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Tigers.
First and foremost, I did a full scouting report on Garcia which can be found here if you want to give it a read. Garcia is a physical specimen, standing 6'4" and weighing in at around 240lbs. He has a professional baseball body, meaning that there is no bad weight, and his physique is truly impressive. He's among the most toolsy prospects in the system, and regularly makes scouts drool at his abilities (not literally, but you get the idea). As of right now, he is athletic enough and fast enough to play above-average defense in center field, but projects better as a true plus defender in right field. He has the ability to be a gold glover in RF, combining his athleticism, speed, excellent instincts, and overall defensive ability. He easily has the best outfield arm in the Tigers system, regularly earning 70 grades from scouts. He showed off his arm in the Tigers playoff run, which you can relive here. He is also an above-average runner, flashing plus times with some consistency, but settling into the 55 range when grading. His excellent instincts in the OF allow his speed to play up a tick, and his excellent instincts on the bases also allow his speed to play up. He has the ability to steal 20 bases right now, but will inevitably slow down as he matures. Regardless, he should still be pesky on the bases, and I could see him stealing 10-15 bases annually. He has easy plus raw power, and maybe even a half tick beyond that. It's easy to see this power in his batting practice sessions, and based on this raw power alone, he has the ability to hit 25+ HR's in a season. His bat is where scouts get somewhat concerned. He has a tendency to expand the zone and chase pitches out of the strike zone. He has a very solid swing, fundamentally speaking, but his pitch recognition skills are lacking. He has struggled with strikeouts throughout his minor league career, but in 2012 he posted a 18.5 K%, which was the lowest of his career (only considering full season leagues). He is an aggressive hitter, often swinging early in the count, which leads to some weak contact as opposed to waiting for a pitch he can barrel up. He has the projection to be an above-average hitter, which will certainly help get to that power, but the question is whether or not he will actually reach that potential. The swing you saw from Garcia when he was with the Tigers in 2012 was not the true Avisail Garcia swing. He was much more contact-focused, concentrating more on just putting the ball in play rather than letting loose a full swing. He was, to me, in a two-strike approach from the get go, and while that was fine for the role he was playing, it's not his game. He's a guy with excellent power who has the ability to crush the baseball, and that's why I want him to play everyday in the minor leagues (as opposed to platooning with Dirks), so that he can develop his hit tool to the point of allowing his power to play, regardless of the situation.
Garcia's ceiling is that of an impact, everyday right fielder. As I said before, he has the defensive ability to win Gold Gloves in RF (not that the best defender actually gets the Gold Glove, but that's a discussion for another day), in addition to hitting in the high .200 range with 20+ home runs and 15-20 SB's annually. Will he reach that potential? It remains to be seen, but the talent, tools, work ethic, and makeup are all there. I've been a strong component of leaving Garcia in the minor leagues to start 2013 so that he can play everyday and continue to develop his hit tool. He may be the best candidate to platoon with Andy Dirks in 2013, but that's not the right move for Garcia. He should spend most of 2013 at AAA, working against advanced pitching and continuing to develop, and maybe be ready to take over RF in 2014. Regardless, he's an exciting prospect to watch and to scout, and you can bet I'll be in Toledo several times to see him in person.