Avisaíl García has never really been given his fair shake. In 2017, he broke out with a 138 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR for the White Sox. But just one year later, he found himself non-tendered. Even after displaying what his ceiling looked like, the best offer he got was a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Rays. After he delivered on that deal by slashing .282/.332/.464 with 20 bombs and 10 steals, the Brewers were able to nab him on just a 2-year, $20 million contract. Now after what looks like on the surface to be a disappointing 2020 season, early fantasy drafters are taking him at pick #467 overall.
García has and continues to be a criminally underrated player. Whether because he failed to live up to unfairly high expectations in Detroit after being dubbed “Mini Miggy” or because he has only once posted more than 2 fWAR in a season, García rarely grabs headlines despite a solid offensive skill set.
Since he has never been one to draw a walk, García has mostly seen his uptick in overall production come from his power. His unique combination of power and speed, especially for his size, inspired Jeff Sullivan’s 2019 story comparing him favorably to Mike Trout. Of course, García isn’t nearly the kind of player Trout is in many other aspects. But his power spike from the start of 2017 is pretty easy to see.
García has spent much more time above the MLB average since the 2017 season than he has below it. You may see a few seismic dips in his rolling xSLG here. We’ll examine those more closely in a second.
Overall, this paints the picture of a guy who consistently hits the ball with a good amount of authority. In fact, he’s reliably been one of the guys with the loudest contact in baseball.
|2015||116.1||9th in MLB|
|2016||117.1||6th in MLB|
|2017||115.5||17th in MLB|
|2018||116.7||12th in MLB|
|2019||116.2||13th in MLB|
|2020||113.3||28th in MLB|
The 2020 campaign was something of a disappointment for García. If you were just looking at the charts I’ve given you so far, you’d probably think he fared better than his .238/.333/.326 slash line. It was particularly alarming to see his power seemingly vanish right in the middle of what should be his prime as a 29-year-old. Even placing 28th in 2020 put him ahead of guys like Juan Soto, Mike Trout, Matt Olson, and Luke Voit. But 2020 is a season worth diving into further, particularly because García’s status as a sleeper was well-documented on this very website prior to the start of the year.
In such a short season, it doesn’t take a whole lot to completely change the frame of the statistical picture. One thing to note is that García, who has a history of hamstring issues, suffered a strain in the first week of September that kept him out for a series. His power totally fell off the table after the injury.
|Pre-injury ISO||Post-injury ISO|
In 2020, García dealt with not one, but two injuries. His hamstring and his ankle were both ailing, and the Brewers asked him to play center field instead of his traditional spot in right. Even García admitted that it was a little much for him. If we look again at the rolling xSLG chart, we can see a few times when this has happened in his career. In 2018, García hit the injured list twice with hamstring troubles, once keeping him out of action for two months. Both of those injuries resulted in massive drops in his xSLG.
“It’s been a grind,” García said. “Most of my career, I’ve been playing right field. At right field, you don’t have to run a lot. That’s the big difference between center field and right field. I think I’ve got to cover all the gaps, and playing every day, it’s a grind. But I like to play. I’m a competitive guy. I’m going to play wherever they put me and try to do my best.”
There’s reason to believe that by running more, he only further aggravated those injuries. His nose dive in sprint speed only supports the notion that he was playing while still feeling the effects of his ailments.
|Year||Sprint speed percentile|
The good news is that Lorenzo Cain—who’s opting out of the season in August forced García to play in center in the first place—should be back with the Brewers in 2021. That means García should be back to his normal spot in right field. The continuing conversations surrounding the designated hitter in the National League loom large here as well, as García has a lesser chance of getting hurt if he’s not running around in the field. In only a two-month season, he spent a far greater percentage of his season playing hurt than he would have in a 162-game campaign, where a couple of healthy months could cover up the worse numbers.
There’s further reason for optimism when we dig into the 2021 projections. Particularly looking at The BAT X, a model formed last year that uses The BAT projections and grafts Statcast data on top of it and was found to be the most accurate projection system for the 2020 season.
|THE BAT X||622||26||81||83||9||0.269||0.333||0.463||111|
The bad news is that we shouldn’t expect his hamstring issues to simply go away. The fact that this has been a multiple-season issue for him suggests that it will loom over the rest of his career, as this type of injury does. The question is how well the team can manage it going forward and whether or not he’ll be forced to play through it, which would tank his production. The BAT X is projecting career-highs for García in homers, runs, and RBI along with second-best numbers in stolen bases and wRC+. That’s crucial for fantasy players, who could be getting a steal with a guy who is virtually free in drafts right now.
García won’t ever be a guy who plays 160 games in a season. As he gets older, there’s a strong chance his health will only get worse. But as long as he’s healthy, he should be a productive power hitter with some room to grow in his home run output if he figures out how to take advantage of his high exit velocities. Regardless, the best of García should still be yet to come.