In almost any other organization, Willy Garcia would probably have a good shot to be a starting outfielder one day. Unfortunately for him, he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A team with an MVP in center field. With one of the most under-rated players in the game in left field. And a right fielder entering his age 24 season who is still capable of a big breakout.
That trio is under team control through the 2018 season, at which point Andrew McCutchen may depart as a free agent. However, the Pirates also have one of the top 50 prospects in the game in Austin Meadows, and a sleeper outfield prospect in Harold Ramirez, and both should be in Altoona this year, with plenty of time to be ready for 2018, or whenever they’re needed.
Garcia finds himself stuck between a very talented outfield in Pittsburgh, and top ranked outfield prospects in Altoona. Because of this, it’s hard to imagine him ever being a starter for the Pirates. That doesn’t mean he can’t start elsewhere. He’s got plus raw power and an elite arm. A guy with two plus tools can definitely start in the majors. But there is one thing holding Garcia back, and keeping his name out of the conversation in Pittsburgh’s outfield: Strikeouts.
It’s no coincidence that the Pirates had Garcia working on cutting down his strikeouts in 2015. He made some impressive strides in the process, going from a 33% strikeout rate in Altoona last year to a 23% strikeout rate in Altoona this year. His 27.5% rate in Indianapolis was better than any other year in the US, outside of the 2015 numbers in Altoona.
There are a few reasons for the reduction in the amount of strikeouts. A lot of the Altoona hitters focused on cutting down their body movement at the plate. Garcia was one of those, as Sean McCool wrote early in the season. Another one was Max Moroff, who went from a 27.6% strikeout rate in High-A in 2014 to a 21.2% rate in 2015 in Altoona. Not every player cut down on the strikeouts, but there were a few success stories, and Garcia appeared to be one of them.
The problem here is that Garcia didn’t do a good job of limiting strikeouts while hitting for power. The body movement focus was supposed to help in two strike counts, with Garcia being better equipped to attack pitches in the strike zone. However, he didn’t hit for power while taking this approach. It was pointed out in the comments today that not all of his home runs would have come with two strikes, and that’s true. So focusing solely on the two strike situations wouldn’t seem to explain the drop in power. But it’s not like Garcia had a special batting stance for two strikes. His stance was the same in each count, with a reduction in movement that was supposed to help him get ahead, and also help him with two strikes.
By the end of the year, Garcia saw his power returning, with the strikeouts starting to rise a bit, but not to the extremes he saw in previous years. His average dipped in Indianapolis, mostly due to a slow start after his promotion. His time in Altoona saw reduced strikeouts and a better average, but a drop in power. His time in Indianapolis saw a lower average, but the power he is known for, and only a few more strikeouts than he had in Altoona.
Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios will work for Garcia as a starter in Pittsburgh. They’d help make him a great fourth outfielder, and his ability to play all three spots would allow him to step in as a starter in the event of an injury. But to crack this outfield, you need to be an impact talent, and Garcia isn’t going to be that unless he can put everything together and hit for power while reducing strikeouts. Otherwise, he’s Starling Marte, minus the speed, outfield range, and ability to hit for average, which removes a lot of the value Marte has.
The whole “reduce the strikeouts but keep the power” thing is much easier said than done. I can’t tell you how Garcia can make this happen. If I had the simple answer to totally removing the strikeout issues from a guy like Garcia, then I’d be named the Vice President of Hitting for some team in baseball. The new approach that he added in Altoona seems to be working, although I’m not totally convinced of the long-term success. The approach worked for the two strikes, but barely did anything to get ahead in counts and increase walks. And if the two strike approach doesn’t work going forward, then 2015 will look like a fluke season that was wrongly associated with a change in batting stance.
The other theory here is that Garcia was learning a new approach this season, and that’s not something which comes easy or instantly. It’s also something which could come with a lot of inconsistent performances, like going from low strikeouts and no power, to power and low strikeouts, to more power and an increase in strikeouts. And if that would be the case, then it would illustrate the main hope Garcia would have to be a starter — he’s showing some positive signs, and if those signs are related to the new approach, then eventually things might click to the point where Garcia can hit for power while limiting strikeouts.
All of this is easier said than done. And that’s why we started the countdown with Garcia at number 20, rather than eventually getting to him somewhere in the top ten. If strikeouts weren’t such a huge concern, and such a hard habit to break, then we’d be talking about Garcia in Pittsburgh’s long-term outfield. Instead, we’re discussing a good fourth outfield option who could probably end up starting if he’s moved elsewhere.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #20 – Willy Garcia. We started the countdown today with Garcia, and will be rolling out a player per day. If you buy your copy of the Prospect Guide, you’ll get all of the reports, along with our grades, and the reports of the 21-50 prospects and every other player in the system. It’s the most information you can find on the Pirates’ system, and the cheapest price you can find for a prospect book this time of year, especially with the Top Prospect and Annual discounts.
**Pirates Sign Four, Announce 12 Spring Training Invites. Details on the four new signings, and what to expect from the minor league Spring Training invites.
**16 Boom or Bust Pirates Who Could Make a Difference in 2016. One last mention of the New Year’s Eve article, taking a look ahead to the 2016 season, and some of the players who could help the Pirates contend again.