In addition to Brandon Woodruff’s dominance on the mound, Avisail Garcia’s performance was one of the main stories in the Brewers’ 4-1 victory to secure a series win over the division rival Cincinnati Reds. The right fielder opened the scoring with an RBI double. In the field, he gunned down Nick Castellanos at second base attempting to stretch a single to a double; in the eighth inning, he robbed Max Schrock of a home run.
The Brewers have become plenty accustomed to some big moments from Garcia. After a tough first season in Milwaukee, the veteran has slashed .275/.346/.506 (124 wRC+) and is on pace to exceed 3.0 Wins Above Replacement. In many ways, his performance on Wednesday night epitomized his 2021 season. After struggling to translate his former top prospect pedigree into consistent production at the MLB level, Garcia is finally contributing at a well-above-average level in several facets of the game.
Garcia began his professional career in the Detroit Tigers organization, and high expectations were levied on him almost immediately. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s ninth-best prospect in 2011. Scouts compared his hit tool to that of teammate and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. They went so far as to dub Garcia “Mini Miggy” due to their similar physiques. He ultimately lasted just 49 games in the Motor City, managing an 80 wRC+ before being dealt to the Chicago White Sox.
His stay in Chicago lasted much longer, but the outfielder failed to produce consistently for much of that six-year stint. His overall 103 wRC+ was boosted by a 138 wRC+ in 2017. Garcia batted .330 that season, but his success was fueled by some of the best batted ball luck in baseball, as evidenced by a .392 BABIP. His offensive output was below average in three of his six seasons with the White Sox, including his final campaign there in 2018.
Garcia then signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Cranking 20 home runs for the first time in his career was not enough to convince their notoriously low-budget ownership to keep him around, so he returned to the free-agent market. That was when the Brewers swooped in with a multiyear offer.
It’s easy to see what drew David Stearns and Matt Arnold to the former top prospect. They saw the same traits that intrigued the Tigers, the White Sox, and the Rays. Garcia made hard contact at an above-average rate and possessed plenty of raw power. Despite his 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame, he had excellent speed. Combine that with his rocket arm, and you had a quietly strong defensive right fielder. Garcia’s Statcast profile in recent seasons illustrated his all-around athleticism and potential to be a five-tool player.
Garcia’s first season in Milwaukee was disappointing. He managed just two home runs and an 82 wRC+. However, it is tough to blame him for his struggles. Not only did the adverse conditions of the pandemic-shortened season take a toll on many usually-solid hitters, but Garcia was tasked with the added challenge of playing out of position in center field for most of the year.
Fast forward one year, and the now-30-year-old is thriving. While his slash line and WAR are a tick below his 2017 output, he has not been lifted by the near-perfect luck he experienced that year. His BABIP this season is a perfectly normal .302. As such, you can easily make the case that 2021 has been Garcia’s true breakout campaign.
His quality of contact metrics were always above-average, but Garcia has boosted them into elite territory across the board. His hard-hit rate, barrel rate, average exit velocity, and expected wOBA on contact are all the highest of his career. He is murdering the baseball, and improved results have followed.
Garcia has also set a new career-high in home runs with 24 and counting, but whether he is a legitimate threat to hit 25 to 30 round-trippers a year moving forward is debatable. According to Statcast, he has one of the largest differentials between his actual and expected home run total. Based on his fly ball data, MLB’s tracking system believes he should have left the yard 20 times rather than 24. An abnormally high 24.5% HR/FB rate confirms that Garcia has had some good fortune on fly balls.
The good news is that Garcia’s elite ability to barrel the ball should enable him to continue posting an above-average HR/FB rate, even if it does not approach the heights it did this year. When your fly balls are hit extremely hard, more of them are naturally going to clear the fence. If his improvements stick, he might not chase 30 home runs again, but he will still be a power threat who should be able to crack 20 long balls with ease.
As he demonstrated on Wednesday night, Garcia is no slouch in the field. He does not get much credit for his work with the glove, but both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating have pegged him at six runs above average this year. Since the start of the 2019 season, he has amassed 12 Defensive Runs Saved and a 10.1 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games in right field. The latter ranks fifth among right fielders with at least 1,000 plate appearances in that span.
With an expected slash line of .283/.347/.518, not only is Garcia’s solid performance this season legitimate, he may even be under-performing based on how hard he hits the ball. It may have taken longer than anticipated, but he has finally realized the potential he has long possessed. Assuming he declines his half of a mutual option for 2022, Garcia has positioned himself to land a nice contract in free agency this upcoming winter. In the meantime, the Brewers will hope that his production contributes to a World Series title in the fall.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.