The Cincinnati Reds lost to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday afternoon, 7-3. The team only had five hits, and only three of them came from players that started the game. But it was shortstop prospect Jose Garcia that made the first televised Reds game of the spring a fun show to watch. The 21-year-old hit two home runs and also made two nice plays in the field before exiting the game in the 7th inning.
If you read my work over at RedsMinorLeagues.com then you are probably familiar with Jose Garcia, rated on my list as the Cincinnati Reds #4 prospect after the 2019 season. You can read a full report on his season last year, and a scouting report right here.
Jose Garcia’s Background
Born in Cuba, Jose Garcia was playing in the Cuban National Series a teenager, getting into 17 games with Industriales at 18-years-old and hitting .306/.359/.361. He played a bit of everywhere in those 17 games, getting action at shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and center field.
Garcia would defect from the country following that season and go through the process of becoming eligible to sign with a Major League Baseball team. He became eligible late in the 2016-2017 international signing period. The Reds seemed to be going all-in that year as it was the last year that teams were allowed to just spend as much money as they wanted to on a player in this arena as long as they were willing to face the penalties for doing so. Earlier in the period the team had signed two other Cubans – right-handed pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez and shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez.
The signing period goes every year from July 2nd through June 15th. Between that time there is an inactive period of a few weeks. The Reds came to an agreement with Garcia a week before the signing period ended, signing him on June 8th of 2017. He signed a bonus of $5,000,000 – which under the rules at the time, also meant that Cincinnati had to pay a penalty to Major League Baseball of $5,000,000. So while Garcia himself only got $5,000,000 – it cost the organization $10,000,000 to acquire him.
Playing in the Minor Leagues
Unlike players that sign out of America, when plays sign out of other countries they are required to get a work visa in order to play in the US. For some players it takes less time than others in order to get that approved. Historically speaking it has taken Cuban players longer to get through this process – which isn’t surprising given what they had to do in order to become eligible to sign. That led to Garcia not playing in 2017 in official games. He did, however, participate in instructional league in the Dominican Republic at the Reds complex that year.
In 2018 he was stateside and in spring training with the Reds. In just under a week out in Goodyear I had a chance to see Jose Garcia play several times on the backfields, and every day I walked away thinking that he was the best player on the field in which he was playing. He was still just 19-years-old (he would turn 20 in April) and he was athletic, showed good defensive skills, and everything he was hitting was hard. And he seemed to have a solid idea of the strikezone at the time, too.
Heading into the spring the Reds weren’t sure whether or not they were going to send him to Dayton or if they were going to keep him back in extended spring training. But his spring performance forced the issue. Once he got to Dayton, though, things were a bit different than they had been in Goodyear. He got out to a slow start at the plate – and while he did improve each month of the season – at the plate he struggled overall. In 517 plate appearances he hit just .245/.290/.344. The numbers were not good not matter how you sliced them. Following the year, here’s a bit of what I wrote about his bat after watching him play nearly every day both in person and via broadcasts of games:
When you watch Jose Garcia play, he looks like a guy who would have had better offensive numbers than he showed in 2018. The swing is good, the bat speed is there, the power could be there. But he struggles to identify pitches that aren’t the fastball and it doesn’t let those aspects play right now. He’s going to need to improve here in order to get more out of his bat.
Following the season he had shoulder surgery. Garcia didn’t start playing in 2019 until late April. That’s when he joined the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League. While he missed the start of the year, he made up for it quickly. The shortstop made big strides at the plate in the pitcher friendly league – hitting .280/.343/.436 last season while improving in just about every aspect. He also stole 15 bases in 17 attempts.
The 2019 season looked a lot more like the scouting report, particularly at the plate, than the 2018 does. As the offseason prospect rankings started coming out, several of the national publications left Garcia off of their Top 100 lists – a befuddling situation to me. But with the lists that came out a bit later in the offseason, the Reds top shortstop prospect found himself on both the Fangraphs Top 100 Prospect list (#82) as well as the Top 100 list at The Athletic by Keith Law (#93).
If he can hit at AA and AAA like he did in Daytona in 2020, he has the look of a prototypical SS, athletic build with above average defense. He could be the answer for 2021 for the Reds at a position that needs improvement and he should not be blocked like the other minor league infielders.
If he does progress, the not trading Senzel for a high name rental SS may be the best long term decision the Reds FO makes as sometimes the best trades for a franchise are the one which did not occur.
Even if he doesn’t pan out, the Reds made the right choice in not trading Senzel and the farm for 2 years of Lindor.
He could be a key player. The quicker he can develop, the Reds don’t think so much about getting Lindor, Seager, etc.
Bullcrap ,only in the modern era can a player who is best in the spring be sent to AA while mediocre veterans stay because they have a w.a.r or statistic for some intellectual to look at.Baseball is played through the heart,with what you see.Winning is a disease it’s contagious.
It’s early he may strike out rest of spring,and make the decision easy but if he doesn’t I know what I would do.
I don’t think this is a modern era issue at all. Seldom, seldom, seldom are jobs truly won or lost based on Spring. In fact, in a lot of ways Spring is a better approximation of minor league ball, and not the full tilt MLB talent. People are working on swings, pitches, etc. and not trying to necessarily do what they would do in a real season game. Yesterday’s performance does not automatically elevate someone like Garcia over Freddy Galvis.
It’s pretty important that teams not overly get excited by a brief spring surge that isn’t necessarily indicative of future performance for the upcoming season. Plus, there are important considerations of responsible management of the 40 man, starting contract clocks before the player can be most useful, etc.
Good for Garcia yesterday, but holy cow, let’s not over-inflate what this “means” just yet. It’s actually usually very important that a player collect some meaningful AB’s across the minors. Ones that don’t are the rarest of exceptions.
You nailed it Matt. Well said
News flash: this is the modern era and we don’t get to choose a different one. People who had the great springs last year bombed when the games counted, with the exception of Ervin and he rarely got a chance at a regular job. It is what it is.
I’m sure the the high-performing minor leaguers in big league camp are doing it against the top performing, world-class pitching that they would otherwise see during regular season MLB games. And those top notch pitchers are giving it their all, exerting all effort to get the batter out, and not trying to perfect a certain aspect of their own game to sharpen up for the season.
So it’s a fair comparison.
But- make no mistake- i’m rooting for Jo-Gar!
He was best on the BACK FIELDS. Doug did not say he was best player period. The back fields are low minors prospects and other scrubs and dart throws, at least that is how it appears to me. Given his age and lack of pro games, sending him to Dayton made sense.
The only issue I have with Dayton (over Daytona) is latin american/cuban players are used to hot weather. Sending a guy from Goodyear, AZ to Dayton in late April is eye-opening for such a young foreign player (that isn’t from Canada). Maybe the Reds are fine if they struggle, but if any top prospects show a weak confidence, it would be best to send them to a warm league for less shock to the system.
Puig stunk for most of April and May and it was COLD (relatively speaking). Its why so many sub-USA players struggle early in the season, year after year, in ML and MiLB. Other than Shigo, the Reds signed players that shouldn’t start off cold in the cold, at least not due to a shock to the system.
Is there still concern with his ability to hit off-speed pitches?
He looked solid yesterday. How close is that to what you’d been seeing the last couple years, Doug?
He’s only played two years. In 2018 he was over aggressive and had some issues with offspeed stuff. In 2019 he made big strides there and was more patient and better at laying off of pitches.
If he were a college player, where do you all think he’d project in the draft?
My gut tells me that the reason the Reds did not get Grandal and Didi is because they feel Stephenson and Garcia will be ready in 2021. I would love to see them lock both players in a Reds uniform for the next 8-10 years as the White Sox have done with Jimenez and Robert and the Mariners did with Evan White.
I was shocked at how big/thiccc he looked yesterday when he got up to bat. Doug – do you have updated height/weight measurements on him?
You reminded me of what MK and Doug have been telling me over the years about Garcia v AlfRod in comparison—essentially that JoGar is a physical specimen and AlfRod doesn’t have the “it” factor.
Sorry- Jeff (doh!)
I don’t believe he’s grown in height. I don’t have an updated weight on him, but he’s certainly a little bit bigger and stronger than he was when he signed.
Thank you, Reds FO, while we await the future of Stephenson, Garcia, Aquino, Senzel, Greene, Lodollo, and others, we now have: Barnhart/Casali, Galvis, Akiyama, Castillanos, Gray, Castillo, Votto, Moustakis and others.
Hopefully, we’re through the worst.
It seems like we’re seeing good decisions now, on the field and in the front office.
I know—doesn’t it make you nervous? Cincinnati pro sports fans haven’t been allowed to have nice things for 30 years!
His swing on the second HR reminded me of Suarez’ swing. Very quick but easy as well. He sure has the tools, and hopefully the capacity for much more growth.
I said the same thing. I’ve always thought Suarez has what I refer to as a “prototype” swing, and I saw the same thing with Garcia.
He passes the eye test with flying colors. Pair that with recent performance and the scouting reports and it has me very excited to watch him progress.