In theory, a 21-year-old player in his first season at the AA level would be overwhelmed. The jump from A-ball to AA is considered to be the toughest in minor league baseball, as it is thought of as the true proving grounds. Any player, based on this thought process, can dominate at the lower levels. To excel at AA is to truly cement one’s place as someone worth keeping an eye on.
At just 21 years old, Willy Garcia managed to stay afloat in the AA Eastern League. He ended up finishing third among Pirates minor leaguers in home runs, as he more than held his own on the power side. Overall for the year, Garcia produced a .271/.311/.478 batting line, hitting 27 doubles and eighteen home runs for the Altoona Curve.
While that batting line may not seem overly impressive, Garcia was actually quite a bit better than the league average. The average player in the Eastern League produced a .260/.327/.391 batting line, giving Garcia an OPS seventy one points higher than average. However, these numbers may not be what they appear to be.
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There are certainly concerns when it comes to Willy Garcia. He has never had a walk rate above 6.4% in his minor league career, yet has seen his strikeout percentage increase as he rises through the minors. Last season was not an exception, as Garcia walked only 24 times in 474 plate appearances. That walk total was actually the second highest of his career, trailing the 32 walks he drew in 2012.
Garcia also performed much better last season than should have been expected. Last season, Garcia had a line drive rate of only 9.6%, far below the league average of 15.5%. Yet, despite that extremely low line drive rate, Garcia somehow managed a .361 batting average on balls in play. How is that even possible?
Given that his peripherals do not exactly inspire confidence that Willy Garcia is the prospect he would appear to be at first glance, the Pirates may be well served to have him begin the 2015 season back in Altoona. If he is still producing, and begins hitting the ball with more authority, then he could get action with the Indianapolis Indians. However, if the Pirates promote him to AAA this season, Garcia may prove to be completely overmatched.
Sometimes, just a quick look at the numbers will not tell the full story. That is the case with Willy Garcia who, at first glance, would seem to be a solid prospect. However, when digging deeper, the only thing impressive about Garcia is how he managed to produce that batting line with only a 9.6% line drive rate.