GLENDALE, Ariz. – Seeing is believing for Avisail Garcia and for those who have watched him hit the ball hard and deep in all directions of Cactus League ballparks through the first week and a half of spring training games.
Granted, it’s only six games for Garcia, and we’re far from regular season intensity levels, so Garcia’s early explosion – he was 9-for-17 with a triple, three doubles, a tape measure home run to left and a Cactus League high nine RBI through six games – is being processed with caution, especially by those who wrote him off after the 2015 season.
But here’s the thing to keep in mind about Garcia. Not only is he still a baseball babe at 24, he made significant changes to his batting stance, standing more upright with his bat flattened on a lower plane. Of more importance, though, is his head position, turned slightly toward the pitcher, which allows him to see the ball with both eyes.
“Part of it was his posture,’’ said hitting coach Todd Steverson, who began working with Garcia on the changes in Miami during the offseason. “How to get ready and ready to be able to see, that’s huge.’’
Garcia is getting great results, almost instantly, and not surprisingly, is sold on them.
“Because I’m seeing the pitcher and watching the ball with two eyes now,’’ he said. “Last year I was watching like this (with one). It’s helping a lot.’’
More than a lot.
“I mean, for sure. You guys can’t see it?’’
Uh, yeah. With both eyes. After striking out 141 times in Garcia has struck out three times. Again, small sample size, but last year’s performance, when he batted .257 with 13 homers and 59 RBI over 601 plate appearances, sent analysts and fans, armed with metrics and their own personal eye tests, rushing to laptops to call for the end of the Garcia era on the South Side. Some scouts had their doubts as well.
Garcia, knowing he’s still in the early stages of his development, was undaunted.
“That doesn’t bother me,’’ he said.
“I just have to keep doing it every day and be consistent,’’ he said. “Consistency at the plate is everything. You have that and you’re going to have the numbers. Sometimes you’re going to chase a pitch – we’re human beings — but you have to cut down on that.’’
Steverson said it’s pretty basic for Garcia. When he swings at strikes, he’s a beast. When he chases, he’s toast.
“We talk a lot,’’ Steverson said. “He’s going through a process. He’s going through the first phase, he’s getting comfortable with the timing and the feel of it. You might not see it but that’s irrelevant. It’s what’s going on with him. For my money right now he’s doing everything he’s been asked.’’
A knock against Garcia, who demonstrates good power to center and right, is his inability to get around on fastballs and lift them to his pull side.
“One of the hardest things to do in the game is pull a ball in the air,’’ Steverson said. “Why do most outfielders play most everybody on the opposite side of the field? It’s because it’s hard to pull a ball in the air. It ain’t that easy to get the barrel in that spot in .4 seconds. That said, if you have the ability to do it, it should be a part of your game. He has the ability to do it, it’s just a matter of understanding why it didn’t happen.
“A lot of the pitches he gets jammed on were balls and people say ‘he can’t hit a fastball.’ So there’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes to making blanking statements about people. Some balls should be pulled, yeah, but I’d say the majority were not pitches that he should have been swinging at to pull.’’
Manager Robin Ventura likes the way is jumping off Garcia’s bat and his positioning when he takes a pitch.
“Some of those things are real subtle,’’ Ventura said. “It’s not like we’ve totally revamped and created a new kind of way to hit. There are ways to make adjustments and he gets a better angle of his bat. It helps him cover the plate and get the ball in the air a little bit. He seems to be taking to the adjustments. It takes a while sometimes and he has to believe it. The worst thing, you make adjustments with a guy and he’s not all in. He’s starting to see that as well and when a guy gets excited about it you start seeing stuff like that.’’
Some are more welcoming to coaching and advice than others. Steverson said Garcia has been “very receptive.’’
“I will stay the course with him,’’ Steverson said. “I’m not going to abandon him if he doesn’t abandon himself. I’m here for him, whatever he needs. But he needs to make his at-bats mean something to him. He needs to take the information, put it in play and make it mean something to him. That’s the only way you grow as a hitter.’’