Almost exactly three years ago today, I wrote an article outlining some of the potential international breakout hitters in the lower levels. The article started out by raving about the potential of Willy Garcia. It then went on to list other guys you might have heard of, such as Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. But at the time, Garcia was one of the best of the group.
Three years later we find Polanco in the majors, with the chance to be a star. Alen Hanson is in Triple-A, and on pace to make the jump to the majors this year. And Garcia is trying to make the jump from Altoona to Indianapolis, and trying to eventually find a future in the majors.
The things that made Garcia a prospect prior to the 2012 season are still the things that make him a prospect now. He has some of the best raw power in the system, and that has been increasing the last few years. Just take a look at his isolated power over the last three seasons, and consider that Garcia moved up a level each year.
2012: .163 (Low-A)
2013: .180 (High-A)
2014: .207 (Double-A)
He also has the best arm in the system, and has received recognition from Baseball America two years in a row for having the best arm in his league.
What holds Garcia back is his strikeout and walk rates. He put up a 30.6% strikeout rate last year in Altoona, while only walking 5.1% of the time. He still posted good overall numbers, with a .789 OPS that was mostly fueled by his power. If he wants to eventually find a spot in the majors, and find a starting role, he will need to cut down on the strikeouts and increase the walks.
I talked with Garcia and with his hitting coach in Altoona, Ryan Long, about the strikeout issues. The interviews can be seen in the short video below, along with Clint Hurdle raving about what the Pirates like about Garcia. The quick summary is that Garcia has been working on changing his approach to be more selective and cut down on strikeouts. He started this in the Winter Leagues this off-season, and in a very small sample size, it seems to be working. He had a 23.7% strikeout rate and a 6.4% walk rate in 156 plate appearances, while posting a .796 OPS. That would be the highest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate that he’s posted since making the jump to the US.
The problem with Garcia’s walks and strikeouts is that he was struggling at the Double-A level. If he’s striking out 30% of the time in Double-A, and only walking 5% of the time, then he’s going to be severely over-matched in the majors. But if he can cut down on those numbers, he could end up having success in the majors.
Just look at Starling Marte for an example. He didn’t draw walks at all, but only had a 17.5% strikeout rate in Altoona. The next year with Indianapolis, he had a 21.1% strikeout rate and a 6.5% walk rate. He currently has a career 24.7% strikeout rate and a 5.1% walk rate in the majors. His career OPS is .788, compared to an .870 and .847 in Altoona and Indianapolis, respectively.
If Garcia can at least cut down on his strikeouts, then a rough estimate would make him a guy who hits for a decent average in the majors, and a ton of power. Add in the defense in right field, and he could be an eventual starter.