Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates designated outfielder Willy Garcia for assignment. The move was made to make room for recently signed Ivan Nova.
Willy Garcia has been part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization since 2010. Garcia signed for a bonus of $280,000, the most of all the international hitters signed by the Pirates in 2010 (Pitcher Luis Heredia received the largest overall bonus). When Garcia signed the Pittsburgh Pirates were mainly interested in his projectable size and athleticism. The scouting notes on him specifically talked about his raw power and his really strong-arm. However, he had many key flaws that hold back young athletic players. He struggled to take pitches as well as he swung and missed a lot. However, the tools were there and the Bucs were hoping that he and they could work out the flaws.
Garcia started playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization right away. He found himself playing in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. In 51 games he produced a .250 batting average and a .667 OPS. Then in 2011 he played another 50 games, 47 at the Gulf Coast League and three in the New York Penn League. While pitchers typically have the advantage in the lower minors, Garcia continued to post solid numbers for being a young player. Across the two leagues, Garcia posted a .266 batting average. He also put up a .322 on-base percentage and a .762 OPS. The big thing that Garcia showed this year was a jump in his power numbers.
In 2010 he had slugged .333, but in 2011 he posted a .440 slugging percentage. Garcia seemed to have matured physically over the first year of professional baseball and was starting to use some of that raw power. However, with the rise in power one of his flaws also became more apparent. In only 50 games played Garcia rang up 49 strikeouts. However, Garcia was still considered a young player and most young players struggle in the lower minors with their strikeout numbers. It is expected, but if a player is a legitimate prospect he will start to show improvement in that area each year as he matures as a player.
His Best Years
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Over the next few years his power really started to show. In 2012, 2013, and 2014 he hit 18, 16, and 18 home-runs in each season. Along with his home-run power, he saw his slugging percentage reach .478 in 2014. Once again though his strikeout numbers rose to over one per game. Overall, he struck out 430 times over the 366 games he played across the three-year span. That gave him a strike out rate of 1.17 strikeouts per game. He was looking like a Pedro Alvarez type hitter. Low contact rate, lots of strikeouts, but when he would hit it watch out.
Change in Philosophy
Through these years however, the Pittsburgh Pirates philosophy started to change. Their major league team started to look for more contact hitters and less prototypical power type hitters. They saw players like Pedro Alvarez were becoming less efficient at the major league level. Because of this they changed their approach with Willy Garcia. They started to try and teach him to shorten up his swing and make more contact rather than take big hacks.
In 2015 he took a step forward and showed some positive change. For the first time in three years he cut his strikeouts down to less than one per game. However, this year also saw his slugging percentage drop down to the lower .400s. At first glance it seemed like he was shortening up and trying to make contact. A deeper look reveals that this may not have been the case. His groundout/airout rate was a career high at 1.72 in his 71 games at the Triple-A level. Could he have shortened up? Yes he likely did, but because of this he was making a lot of weak contact and all around not driving the ball against more advanced pitching in Triple-A. Add that to his inability to take pitches and walk and you get a .285 on-base percentage. Although his strikeout numbers were down, he still was not providing productive at-bats.
When 2016 came along Garcia found himself getting an opportunity to impress at Spring Training. On the defensive side of things he impressed. He got to show off his incredible arm numerous times along with making some nice running plays in the outfield. However, on the offensive side he continued to struggle. In his 13 games he batted .136 and struck-out eight times. Meanwhile the emergence of Matt Joyce in Spring Training confirmed that Garcia would end up in Triple-A again. Garcia did himself no favors in 2016. He posted career low in slugging at .366 and had another sub-.300 OBP at .293, both of which led to a career low in OPS of .659. On top of that he only hit six home runs, his lowest amount since he was 17 years old.
Some Thoughts on Why He Never got a Chance
Garcia is a prototypical athlete who could not turn into a baseball player. More often that not this happens with young players. Every year at the MLB draft, teams take players who are dual-sport athlete in baseball and football. They are always called raw, projectable, but have great athleticism, just like Garcia. Most of them end up not panning out, just like Garcia. Some thought Willy Garcia had an outside shot at being the Pittsburgh Pirates fourth outfielder for 2016. The only real plus tool he would have offered was his arm. Considered to be an average runner he provides average defense and is not much of a threat on the base paths. On the offensive side he has his issues as covered earlier.
The biggest thing working against him on the offensive side might have been the fact that he is a right-handed hitter. The Bucs like having left-handed hitting outfielders off the the bench. Mainly because two of the three current outfielders are righties. Add in that lefty hitters are better suited for PNC along with in general pinch-hitting late in games for strategic purposes. With all that being said, the Pittsburgh Pirates did not envision Willy Garcia playing a role for the Bucs in 2017. With no real progression at the plate, the Bucs decided it was time to cut ties with him.
Garcia was considered a top 20 prospect entering 2016, he likely would have fallen out of the rankings for 2016. Prospects like Barrett Barnes, Jose Osuna (can play outfield), and Jordan Luplow have passed Garcia up in the rankings. Garcia is still only 24 and will likely sign onto to a minor league deal with someone.
He still has some appeal, being that he was considered an intriguing prospect. Teams who are rebuilding and looking to fill out their roster will take a flier on the young athlete. However, if no one claims him he will be back in Triple-A for the Bucs. He still is a year away from minor league free agency. With that he could only spend so much time at Triple-A before a decision had to be made. He has not shown enough for the Bucs to keep him on the forty man roster. Garcia logically is the odd man out as his prospect status has been dwindling over the last two seasons. Someone had to be moved out for Ivan Nova, and Garcia was the right player to cut.