As 2014 is coming to a close, one prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system is progressing as well as any player within the organization.
Right fielder Willy Garcia, just 21 years old and playing in his first full season for the Double-A Altoona Curve, has taken major strides this season defensively, as well as in the batter’s box.
Willy Garcia is known for his power potential, demonstrated by his 50 extra base hits, including 18 home runs, 27 doubles and 5 triples so far this season. Despite his raw power abilities, Garcia has always struggled with his discipline at the plate, and has trouble working deep into counts. In 2013 he finished with a 32% strike-out rate in High-A Bradenton. Through the first two months of the 2014 season, Garcia struggled at the plate, posting a slash line of .228/.272/.733 to go along with a 30% strike out rate.
Since the beginning of June, Garcia has seen great improvements at the plate, with a slash line of .313/.343/.859. His strike-out rate during that time is still at an alarming 31% rate, but since the beginning of August, his strike-out rate has been 25%.
Garcia’s improved plate discipline was on display Tuesday night against Richmond. In his first plate appearance, he worked a full-count walk, not swinging at a single pitch during the at bat. Later in the fourth inning with men on second and third and no outs, Garcia quickly went down 0-2, but worked the count full, not offering at any of the pitches that were thrown low and out of the strike zone. Garcia then hit a 3-2 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. The third baseman bobbled the ball, causing the official scorer to rule it as an error. Because of his improved plate discipline and pitch selection, Garcia earned a well-deserved RBI during that plate appearance. In Garcia’s at-bat in the seventh inning he was a little too patient, taking a called third strike on a 2-2 count.
Curve Manager Carlos Garcia gave the outfielder a lot of credit on the work that he and hitting coach Ryan Long have put in to help see improvements at the plate.
“As the season went on he kept making adjustments,” Carlos Garcia said. “Ryan Long, our hitting coach, has done a very good job with him, teaching him to be patient, learning how the pitchers are going to attack him, and to put himself into good hitting counts. When that happens he will be able to hit more balls in the strike zone, and that’s what’s happened.”
“I am feeling really good because I am getting better. I am growing up. I’m learning [everyday], and I am feeling really good about that,” Willy Garcia said on his improvements this season, through translator Stolmy Pimentel.
Comfort at the plate has been the key for Garcia during his great second half stretch.
“I’ve been working in the cage, working with the hitting coach, and I am feeling more comfortable because I’ve been through the season. I’m feeling more comfortable in the batter’s box.”
Among Garcia’s strongest attributes are his outfield defense and his plus throwing arm. In the eighth inning on Tuesday night, he showed off his plus arm in right field by gunning out a Richmond runner trying to score from second on a single. That was Garcia’s 19th outfield assist of the season, breaking Starling Marte’s Curve record of 18 set in 2011.
After the game, Carlos Garcia had glowing remarks on the progress Willy Garcia has made this season.
“Willy is a special kid. He’s special because he gets better and better.”
Carlos Garcia has really enjoyed watching Willy play defense this year, mentioning how he has thrown guys out at third “basically from the warning track,” and that he feels very comfortable when the ball is hit out to right field because Willy “erases the running game.”
Garcia further praised Willy’s defense, saying that he takes pride in his ability to play defense, and that is why he is “one of the best in the league, and probably one of the best in baseball.” Earlier this month, Garcia was named as having the best outfield arm in the Eastern League.
The manager believes that Willy has the ability to be an everyday player in the major leagues, but still has a lot of growing to do.
“Definitely he has grown. [There are] some things that have to be cleaned up, nothing is perfect. But we are [heading] in the right path.”
“The only limit for Willy is Willy. He is the one who has to put [in] the work here, the one who has to understand how good of a ball player he can be. His attitude [and] his work ethic is what is going to push him over the other players.”
If he continues to improve his discipline in the batter’s box, Willy Garcia has all the tools to be an everyday outfielder in the Major Leagues.