The theme of the 2019-20 Milwaukee Brewers’ offseason was austerity. Early suggestions of “operating in the red” became a preeminent talking point all winter as the team shed successful veteran players on increasing contracts in favor of slightly cheaper “buy low” free agents around the diamond. Only one significant outlay was made — the guarantee of a $10 mil AAV to outfielder Avisail Garcia on a two-year contract with some complicated third-year option language.
The overall “get slightly cheaper, slightly worse players” strategy was largely a failure as the Brewers struggled to a 29-31 record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, securing a playoff spot only because the postseason was expanded to include eight teams from each league. Likewise, “Avisail Garcia as the offseason splash” was also a failure as he struggled to the worst full-season OPS of his career.
Garcia has a volatile history at the plate during his career, only thrice in parts of nine seasons posting a wRC+ better than the league’s average. “Mini Miggy” has long been seen as someone with a high upside due to his impressive physical tools, which was the main selling point when the organization acquired him — this was a player in the sweet spot of his career age-wise who the front office suggested was ready to take that proverbial “next step.” Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Stearns and company made a major miscalculation regarding just how well Garcia would perform in 2020.
Forced into action in center field once Lorenzo Cain opted out, Garcia managed only a .238/.333/.326 slash line across 207 plate appearances. He hit just a pair of home runs with an ISO of .088, the worst power output of his career. His Statcast metrics weren’t any more enticing; Garcia finished with the lowest average exit velocity (26th percentile) and hard contact rate (39th percentile) since those stats first started getting recorded in 2015. His barrel rate was among the league’s worst, and his signature aggressive approach — a 39% o-swing rate and 17.5% swinging-strike rate yielded a 23.7% strikeout rate. Garcia ranked in the league’s 43rd percentile in K rate and 9th percentile in whiff rate. Encouragingly, Avi did walk in nearly 10% of his plate appearances, an increase of nearly 4% over his career rate.
Maybe it was small-sample wonkiness. Perhaps it was due to the disjointed nature of the season. It could be that he played out of position for most of the year (Garcia’s been far better suited as a corner outfielder during his career). Or, maybe he just isn’t anything special as a big league hitter. Whatever the reason, Avisail Garcia was bad in 2020, and failed to come anywhere close to living up to the expectations that came with his $10+ mil per year contract. To his credit, though, he did attempt to do something about it during the offseason.
A player reporting to camp in the “best shape of his life” is a common Spring Training storyline, and Garcia shed nearly 40 pounds during the most recent offseason before arriving in Maryvale for his second season with the Brewers. Avi had always been on the more physical side during his career, typically listed at 250+ pounds, and he’s had success playing at that weight while recording surprisingly high Sprint Speed totals. Garcia said at the start of camp that his body feels “way better” with more energy, but it remains to be seen just how much that will effect his output on the field. The early Spring Training returns are promising, however, as he hit .311/.340/.600 with four home runs during Cactus League play.
If Garcia cannot improve his offensive production and continues to post mostly middling defensive numbers in right field as he generally has during his career, then he stands out as the most glaring candidate to lose playing time to the newly arrived Jackie Bradley, Jr. JBJ also bats left-handed, which could eventually lead to a platoon-type situation with Garcia in that corner spot. The pressure is on for Avisail Garcia, as he is young enough to still land a much more lucrative multiyear deal the next time he hits free agency, if his play dictates it.
In the Minors
We’ve been through most of these guys before. There is Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Corey Ray, and Tyrone Taylor as MLB-ready options on the 40-man. There are NRI’s like Dylan Cozens, Dustin Peterson, and Pablo Reyes. Upper-level depth pieces like Cooper Hummel, Jamie Westbrook, and Chad Spanberger. Then there are the top prospects further on down the ladder like Tristen Lutz, Garrett Mitchell, Carlos Rodriguez, Micah Bello, Pablo Abreu, Arbert Cipion, Joe Gray, Hedbert Perez, and Eduarqui Fernandez, among several others.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant