Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a name everyone knows.
On top of himself once being the top prospect in the game, his dad, Vladimir Guerrero, is a Hall of Famer. So when Guerrero Jr. is tied for the MLB home run lead, no one is really that surprised.
But there’s another name up there with him: Adolis Garcia.
Garcia has been a standout rookie for the Rangers this season. Since he was called up in early April, he has been crushing the ball, which has included five home runs in his past five games to tie Guerrero for the MLB home run lead at 16.
But where did he come from? And is this power surge for real? Let’s take a look.
Garcia has always been a big power hitter
There are always hitters who go through stretches at the plate when they can do no wrong. Every pitch seems to find the barrel of the bat and they go on a brief power run before coming back down to Earth. Is that the case with Garcia?
It certainly doesn’t look like it. Garcia was never considered a top prospect when he was in the minors with the Cardinals, but power was always his calling card. Fangraphs tagged his 2019 prospect profile with a 55-grade for raw power, which signals an above-average tool.
And that power showed up in games in the minors. In 2017, he clubbed 15 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A and followed that up with 22 long balls in 2018 at Triple-A before he was called up to the majors for a 21-game stint. He struggled mightily in that stretch, striking out 41.2 percent of the time and batting just .118. He returned to Triple-A in 2019 and again knocked the cover off the ball to the tune of 32 home runs in 132 games.
The power offering wasn’t enough, however, and he was designated for assignment in December that year and traded to the Rangers for cash.
Garcia had a sip of coffee with Texas in 2020 for six at-bats, but he had no hits.
Before he signed with the Cardinals in 2017, Garcia spent time playing in the Cuban National Series with Ciego de Ávila and with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. He showed off that power with the Tigers in Cuba, clubbing 26 home runs in his final two seasons over 171 games between 2014 and 2015 before launching four home runs in a brief 32-game stint with the Giants in 2016.
Garcia almost didn’t have the chance to play this year
Surely, the Rangers had to know this breakout was coming, right? Well, it certainly doesn’t appear that way.
Garcia was acquired by Texas in 2019 and played briefly for the team in 2020. But on Feb. 10, 2021, he was designated for assignment. When he went unclaimed on waivers, he was sent to the minors, though he did receive a spring training invite. He looked productive while he was there, launching three homers and posting an OPS of 1.170 in just 32 at-bats.
The performance stems from his work with Rangers hitting instructor Luis Ortiz, who worked with Garcia at the Rangers’ minicamp last year after he was acquired from the Cardinals.
“He knew there was work to be done,” Ortiz told the Dallas Morning News. “The talent was there, but we knew and he knew that his skill at making contact and keeping the ball to the middle was something he really had to master. He knew he had to either learn how to hit that pitch out of the zone or take. But anything I told him he was willing to try. He was open to taking risk.”
Garcia’s brother had a productive MLB stint
If Garcia’s name sounds familiar, it’s because it should. Braves fans will recognize his brother, Adonis Garcia, who was an impactful bat for the team back in 2015 and 2016.
Adonis Garcia similarly bounced around in the minors before landing with Atlanta, but once called up he made an immediate impact, finishing the 2015 season with 10 homers and a .277 batting average in 191 at-bats to become just the second Braves player in history to hit 10 home runs in under 200 at-bats.
While Adonis Garcia looked like a productive piece for the Braves in 2015, his impact was less so in 2016. He did hit 14 home runs, but it took him 134 games to get there. All told, Fangraphs listed his WAR at 0.6, falling under the 0.7 mark he posted in 2015 in 76 fewer games.
Adonis Garcia signed with the LG Twins of the KBO League for a year in 2018 and has since bounced around with several Mexican League teams.
Is Garcia’s power for real?
Can the Cuban outfielder who was twice designated for assignment keep this up?
His minor league history of hitting for power would certainly indicate that the home runs are for real. What about behind his current MLB numbers?
All indications are that he will continue to sting the ball. His average exit velocity is in the 96th percentile in the majors and his hard-hit rate is in the 95th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. His barrel rate is in the 99th percentile, and only Shohei Ohtani is barreling up the ball more than his 12.9 percent barrel per plate appearance rate.
Garcia is batting .288 entering play Thursday, and that does seem likely to go down, at least a little bit. While he’s making plenty of hard contact, Garcia is also striking out 28.8 percent of the time and walking just 4.7 percent of the time. His chase rate of 39.4 percent is in the 3rd percentile, which is problematic.
Still, Baseball Savant has his expected batting average at .273, so while the plate discipline highlights some potential concerns, he’s hitting the ball hard enough to overcome those issues for the moment. And based on his batted-ball profile, here are the names listed as similar to Garcia by Baseball Savant: Tyler O’Neill, Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Rafael Devers and Franmil Reyes. That’s not too shabby.
As for his manager, Chris Woodward seems to think he’ll do just fine.
“Adolis is going to have to grow and learn just like every young hitter in the big leagues,” Woodward told Sports Illustrated. “They’re going to figure you out. But I’ve already seen it. I’ve already seen him adjust so many times, even in mid-at-bat. He’ll chase a pitch and kind of nod his head. The next time that guy throws that pitch over the plate, he waffles it into right-center field.”
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