Willy Garcia Has Some of the Best Power in the System, But One Thing Holds Him Back

Almost exactly three years ago today, I wrote an article outlining some of the potential international breakout hitters in the lower levels. The article started out by raving about the potential of Willy Garcia. It then went on to list other guys you might have heard of, such as Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. But at the time, Garcia was one of the best of the group.

Three years later we find Polanco in the majors, with the chance to be a star. Alen Hanson is in Triple-A, and on pace to make the jump to the majors this year. And Garcia is trying to make the jump from Altoona to Indianapolis, and trying to eventually find a future in the majors.

The things that made Garcia a prospect prior to the 2012 season are still the things that make him a prospect now. He has some of the best raw power in the system, and that has been increasing the last few years. Just take a look at his isolated power over the last three seasons, and consider that Garcia moved up a level each year.

2012: .163 (Low-A)

2013: .180 (High-A)

2014: .207 (Double-A)

He also has the best arm in the system, and has received recognition from Baseball America two years in a row for having the best arm in his league.

What holds Garcia back is his strikeout and walk rates. He put up a 30.6% strikeout rate last year in Altoona, while only walking 5.1% of the time. He still posted good overall numbers, with a .789 OPS that was mostly fueled by his power. If he wants to eventually find a spot in the majors, and find a starting role, he will need to cut down on the strikeouts and increase the walks.

I talked with Garcia and with his hitting coach in Altoona, Ryan Long, about the strikeout issues. The interviews can be seen in the short video below, along with Clint Hurdle raving about what the Pirates like about Garcia. The quick summary is that Garcia has been working on changing his approach to be more selective and cut down on strikeouts. He started this in the Winter Leagues this off-season, and in a very small sample size, it seems to be working. He had a 23.7% strikeout rate and a 6.4% walk rate in 156 plate appearances, while posting a .796 OPS. That would be the highest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate that he’s posted since making the jump to the US.

The problem with Garcia’s walks and strikeouts is that he was struggling at the Double-A level. If he’s striking out 30% of the time in Double-A, and only walking 5% of the time, then he’s going to be severely over-matched in the majors. But if he can cut down on those numbers, he could end up having success in the majors.

Just look at Starling Marte for an example. He didn’t draw walks at all, but only had a 17.5% strikeout rate in Altoona. The next year with Indianapolis, he had a 21.1% strikeout rate and a 6.5% walk rate. He currently has a career 24.7% strikeout rate and a 5.1% walk rate in the majors. His career OPS is .788, compared to an .870 and .847 in Altoona and Indianapolis, respectively.

If Garcia can at least cut down on his strikeouts, then a rough estimate would make him a guy who hits for a decent average in the majors, and a ton of power. Add in the defense in right field, and he could be an eventual starter.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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BHWonder

What is an Excellent….Good….Average….Poor Strikeout/Walk Ratio??? So as I am reading, I know what the heck I am reading!! Thank you!!

NMR

For reference, Major League average walk and strikeout rates were roughly 8% and 20%, respectively. High-K players are generally noted above 25%, low-K players below 15%. High-BB players are generally noted above 10%, low-BB players under 6%.

bucsws2014

Stats are stats, but hearing Hurdle at PirateFest, there was only one minor league position player he went out of his way to mention as a potential difference-maker for the near future and that was Garcia. Good enough for me for now.

Monsoon Harvard

He has a very good arm and his throwing will boost his chances of making it. He definitely needs to raise his batting average. I’d rather see his contact improve though than his ability to take walks. Walks don’t knock in runs.

KauaiCoffee

Garcia loves to strike out. I am not sure why. But he clearly loves it.

Garcia has an incredibly high swinging strike rate. He swings at everything, and he usually misses. When he manages to make contact, he hits the ball hard.

Garcia’s 31% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate at AA will likely be even more extreme in the majors (if he even makes it that far). How many players in history have sustained any success with a 30+% K rate and a 4% BB rate?

Scott Kliesen

First off, Happy Birthday to my favorite Pirate of all-time, Willie Stargell! Would’ve turned 75 today.

Seems to me if Garcia reduces his strike outs, he will also increase his walks. Probably has taken the nobody walks off the island mindset to an extreme. If he doesn’t stop swinging at balls off the plate, he’ll get fewer strikes to swing at the further along he gets in his climb towards the majors.

NMR

“It then went on to list other guys you might have heard of, such as Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson.”

^Favorite line of the article. Worthy humblebrag!

NMR

I can appreciate the humility, but don’t be afraid to show folks that you know what you’re talking about. I’ll be the first to admit skepticism of writers who don’t have a baseball background, but you’ve won me over (not that it matters, of course).

sisyphus

Does Garcia really have a better arm than Marte? If so, he really must have one for the ages.

leowalter

No ! I don’t care what anyone tells you differently.

Y2JGQ2

Yes, he does. Marte’s arm is strong, but the accuracy is hit and miss. Garcia’s is a little stronger, and way more accurate. Give a 1-10 rating on strength and accuracy, Marte is a 8.5,6.0 Garcia is more like 9.0, 8.0

leowalter

Your proof of those numbers is ?????

Y2JGQ2

I’m giving a scouting report. Who has proof of Marte’s speed throwing, and last time I checked, speed does not an outfield arm make. I’ve been to the last 3 camps and watched them quite a bit. Garcia’s arm is better than Marte, and better than Polanco. Polanco’s got a great arm, but a terribly slow release, which to me, impacts that tool scoring. The arm has 3 parts. how hard does he throw, how quickly does he release the ball, and how accurate is it? Just like a catcher, they are all important. Marte is not very accurate, Polanco’s weakness is his terrible release, and Garcia has neither of those weaknesses, so that arm “tool” scoring is the highest to me

leowalter

They are all measured on speed of the ball coming into the infield from their position. Garcia never exceeded Marte’s highest measured speed in Altoona, which as John J. mentioned, was reported at 101 mph in 2010 As for watching them in camp, fine, I have done that also. I have also seen all three players in game conditions numerous times, and you can believe what you want to.

John Janesko

Marte reportedly throws 101 mph. I highly doubt Garcia has a stronger arm.

Y2JGQ2

Unless you are out there with a radar gun John, i’m going to disregard your statement. I’ve actually watched them side by side in B games and in camp the last couple years. if Tim disagrees with me, I’ll definitely submit to him because he truly lives it, but otherwise, i’m sticking to my thoughts on this one . I will say this though, if we had Garcia, Marte, and Polanco in the outfield, noone is running anywhere

Ben Swogger

Several years ago, we would be counting on Garcia as a top prospect. Now he’s more of a luxury. Great if he works out, no big loss if he doesn’t. How far we have come.

leadoff

He is a big loss if he does not work out, the Pirates rate him very high and they will need that power in a couple of years.

Luke sutton

Need power, but you dont gotta have massive amounts. If the team has Marte+Polanco+Harrison+Bell in a few years, thats a good deal of power without looking at C, 1 OF spot, SS, and 2B. PIT has power, but its more spread out than some teams. Last year, even with Pedro in a down year, PIT finished 3rd in NL in HRs. 3rd in the league, with only 2 guys over 20. PIT has been finding great ways of having good power without having to rely on 1-2 guys having big power year to year.

Y2JGQ2

at what position leadoff? I don’t think anyone projects him ahead of Meadows, Marte, and Polanco. Unless we give him a 3rd baseman’s mit, he is a 4th outfielder in pittsburgh

Mercss15

He’s not a big loss. He’s a luxury they can afford to bring along slowly given the abundance of outfield options. I don’t agree with everyone on this list but this gives you idea of the minor league outfield depth Pirates have. http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/top-nl-outfield-prospects-a-different-take/

John Janesko

I want to know how Edward Salcedo is #6 on that list. His numbers/position remind me of a poor man’s Jarek Cunningham

SevenPatch

I’m surprised he’s on the list too, although I think Salcedo has more talent than Cunningham. Salcedo was rushed through the Braves minor leagues and if given time he could be good.

leadoff

I am aware of their minor league outfield depth, but none of the depth has the power and the arm he has, true they could survive without him, they could lose any one player and survive, but big time talent that goes away is a big loss.

NMR

This argument is like the proverbial squirrel distracted by shiny things.

Oh look, dinger! Over there, laser!

John Janesko

Didn’t mean to dislike the comment or whatever, tried clicking the link. Just saying

leadoff

I don’t buy the strikeouts are holding him back, Alvarez was never held back and he is a strikeout king. IMO, they have time with Garcia and they are taking their time with him, they don’t need him right now and won’t for a couple of years, certainly working on cutting down on strikeouts is something he will be doing, but long swingers are always prone to strikeouts. Walks are something that Latin players for the most part don’t seem to want to take. If they needed Garcia he would be fast tracked.

Brian Bernard

You got my attention today leadoff. This time I agree with you that the K’s are not holding him back.
When I’ve seen him his swing is long and it ‘seems’ like he’s guessing zone more than most. Love the power and defense package, but what’s holding him back is that he’s not hitting enough – period. If he’s a power guy primarily he’s going to have to either have a good OPS, or a lot of hits and SLG. More likely the second.
It seems he’s going to have to make some adjustment – shorter swing, add patience, or just increase his babip and sustain it ala Marte to get the call.

leowalter

Pedro’s SO rate at AA was around 22 %. What does that tell you about a guy a hair over 30 % in Altoona and his chances in MLB ?

Andrew

Exactly the magnitude cannot be overlooked.

Y2JGQ2

leadoff- I don’t think we meant that strikeouts are LITERALLY holding him back from being promoted, it’s more that they are holding him back from having the total package he needs to be succesful in his career. Long swings aren’t good, ever. They are always prone to strikeouts, offspeed pitches, prolonged mechanical issues resulting in slumps, etc. The first thing every team should do with long swingers is shorten their swing…. and using Pedro as an example doesn’t help your point. A lot of fans, myself included, consider him a failure as a #1 pick, he hasn’t even come close to his billing out of college and he’s made almost no progress in 5 years in his approach and pitch recognition

leadoff

Using Pedro does make my point, he hit 36 homeruns his best year, struck out 186 times and the 186 strikeouts is completely overlooked. I also agree that up to this point Pedro has been a disappointment as a #1 pick. Pedro’s home runs trump everything else he does, that is why I used him as a comparison.

NMR

How one could simultaneously know anything about the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2008 and think that Pedro Alvarez’s strikeout issues have been “completely overlooked” truly boggles the mind.

You’ve outdone yourself, sir.

Luke sutton

But Pedro didnt K as much as Garcia and has had some big issues with his Ks in the bigs. Garcia is striking out at a higher rate than Pedro did in AA, which should be an issue for any Pirate fan. Great power, great arm, needs to improve his K and BB rate. A continued K rate of 30% in AA doesnt bode well for any player in the future.

Y2JGQ2

…and pedro didn’t really get fasttracked given his performance

leadoff

Actually he did get fast tracked, Huntington admitted that Pedro was brought along to fast.

Y2JGQ2

Being brought along too fast doesn’t mean he was fast-tracked, it means that Pedro was actually developing slower than he should have, but saying it in a nice way. He had more or less, the same type of treatment all high round draftpicks do. One level per year, and half in AAA, isn’t any faster than Cole or Polanco or Cutch, and none of them were fasttracked

Luke sutton

A really good reason to make sure Garcia makes those key improvements before being promoted. He will always strike out a decent amount, but his K rates and BB rates in AA being this high are a big deal because it gets much harder as he goes forward, so if he doesnt make improvements the promotions are gonna present issues if he still Ks as he does.

NMR

At least Garcia has already learned from Pedro’s fatal flaw…

Look how high that hat is on his head!

R Edwards

I think you need both – a balance of guys who get on base a lot and 2-3 guys who are threats to change a game with one swing. If Moneyball was the answer, the A’s would have fared better in the post season over the past 10 years.

stumbley

Roberto Clemente’s highest ISO in his career was .219, and that was also the year he hit his most home runs, 29. Who would you rather have playing for you, Willy Garcia or Roberto Clemente? Your insistence on “power” rather than GETTING ON BASE is the reason that the Pirates don’t do as well as they should. Moneyball proved that just getting hits is more important than hitting home runs. The teams that have figured this out are the teams that win consistently.

tuckshop25

I’m pretty sure that Tim’s “insistence on power” doesn’t affect the Pirates’ results in even the slightest way. No offense to Tim, of course, but I’m pretty sure they have their own internal standards.

Scott Kliesen

You do realize the Pirates have won more games the last two seasons in the NL than every team but the Cards and Dodgers, right?

SevenPatch

Mr. Stumbley, what you’ve just said… is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone reading your comment is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul…

SevenPatch

Ha! Thanks. Seriously though, I read the post and I’m thinking to myself, why is he comparing one of the greatest outfielders in baseball history to a minor league prospect. Then he asks who we’d rather have playing for us at which point I face palm. Then he talks about insistence on power and I have to ask, who’s insistence on power? Tim Williams? The Pirates? Santa Claus? It’s just downhill after that when he talks about moneyball and which teams are winning.

NMR

I really do hope I didn’t offend him. I’m sure he’s a fine guy and hope he keeps reading Tim’s site. But I just couldn’t help bust him a little for the strawman trifecta he trotted out.

Luke sutton

Pirates have made the playoffs 2 years in a row and were a 90 win team one of those years, so the whole “dont do as well as they should” thing seems better used in 2010 -2011 era. Absurd comparison. You gotta have guys that can get on base at a high rate and set up others, but you also gotta have a few guys that can drive the ball and hit for power. Too many examples of a team needing 2 runs that want an OBP guy and a power guy rather than 2 OBP guys.

People refuse to like it, but Pedro types have value. Flaws in his game, but his ability to drive the ball is huge, particularly in the playoffs when such a SSS makes runs a premium.

Y2JGQ2

Is it easier to get 3 singles in one inning or a double and a sac fly?

Monsoon Harvard

Problem with the Pirates is 3 singles in an inning is no guarantee of a run due to their poor base running and judgment.

leadoff

A team has to have power somewhere, you can’t win consistently with pop corn hitters. The Pirates consider power as the hitting the ball hard, not necessarily over the fence. They prefer solid contact vs bloopers and weak ground balls, when they talk power, this is what they are referring to. A good example of this is Tabata, hits for a nice average, but his hits are not quality hits, they are bloopers and bleeders, that is holding him back.

Monsoon Harvard

Too bad Tabata hasn’t shown any improvement so far, if he could at least get a few of his lucky bleeders they could get some interest from the multitude of teams whose outfields are currently being depleted by injuries.

So much for his supposed improvement from the advice given him by Marlon Byrd. He sucks even worse now, (if that is possible).

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