A few years ago, when Avisail Garcia was one of the Detroit Tigers' top prospects, comparisons with Miguel Cabrera often arose. It isn’t a mere comparison.
The same year the outfielder made his big league debut, the Cabrera was on the road to achieving the first Major League Triple Crown since 1967.
Cabrera and Garcia share some outstanding physical similarities. Baseball Reference has them both on a height of 6-foot-4 and a weight of 240 pounds. This has been a constant for both players’ careers, but for the first time, Garcia is living up to the expectations the scouts built up around him when he left Venezuela to conquer his dreams and when he was acquired by the White Sox in a three-way trade that saw Jake Peavy traded to Boston and Jose Iglesias to the Tigers in 2013.
"I’m happy," he assured me in an exclusive interview. "I’m working hard and I’m focused, I trust the Lord that everything will be fine. I’m not trying to do that much, I’m just concentrating on doing whatever I can and keeping my focus every day."
The Venezuelan outfielder stands at the top among his American League colleagues during the first month of the season about to conclude. Excluding today's games, his .388 batting average is 27 points higher than his nearest competitor, Yankees' Starlin Castro, who completed Friday with a .361 batting average. Garcia's OPS stands at 1.068, only below Mike Trout and Miguel Sano, amongst the batters of the AL, also excluding today's games.
Garcia began the weekend the same way he started the current campaign. He recorded three hits for the fifth time this month, including his fifth long ball of the year, a number that equals half of the home runs he connected during the last two years. Going into today's game against his former team, he had 19 runs batted in, as well as a .430 on-base percentage and a .638 slugging percentage.
"I’m more experienced now," Garcia admitted. "I lost 21 pounds, I feel better and I’m playing day in, day out. I had a spell as a designated batter last year, but these things happen. Now, I have the chance to show who I really am. I hope I can keep this up, stay healthy and keep doing what I’ve been doing so far."
FanGraphs contains some clues regarding Garcia's adjustments that have helped him have such a splendid start.
He has reduced the amount of hits he he's had on the ground by 12% compared to 2015 and 7% compared to 2016. His fly ball percentage has increased by 5% compared to his 2016 total, a very important detail given that the Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago favors hitters.
Garcia is also hitting the ball harder. According to FanGraphs, he’s hitting the ball with an average or strong speed in 86% of his at-bats, a percentage higher than five points compared to last year’s.
"I’m trying to always hit balls in the strike zone," he commented. "I was working with a hitting coach in Miami. I’m trying to lock my eyes on the ball and I’ve shortened by swing. I try not to do more than what I can. They say I have strength, so that’s the key. I have faith that I will be consistent throughout the whole year."
In that regard, Fangraphs can back up his claim, because in the first month of the season, he’s smashing pitches inside the zone 6% more than he did during the last season and he has reduced by a single percentage unit the amount of mishit swings compared to 2016.
These adjustments were made after advice from the player he’s always compared with, and he finally appears to be living up to those projections that have him being compared to Miguel Cabrera in his homeland.
"I was always speak with Miguel," he confesses. "He always tells me to keep my eyes on the ball. Sometimes we lose sight of it, we let it slip off our vision, but I’m working on staying with it the whole time, hitting throws that go inside the strike zone. I have to be consistent with it and turn it into a routine so it becomes a natural thing”.