Willy Garcia has been on quite a tear against opposing Eastern League pitchers as of late. He is currently riding an 18-game hitting streak after Saturday night’s game for the Curve, which is three shy of the Curve’s franchise record of 21. During the streak, Garcia’s numbers have certainly impressed with a .377/.415/.649 slash line for an OPS of 1.064.
As we dig into these numbers and the reasons why Garcia may be producing now, let us remember where we were with Willy Garcia at the beginning of the year. In April, Garcia had a very respectable batting average of .295, but his strikeout rate was through the roof at 33%, and he only had two extra base hits in the whole month for a measly ISO of .049.
On May 15th, Garcia was taking batting practice in Altoona when he was hit in the face with another bat, an injury that sat him for the next week while he recovered (he was not diagnosed with a concussion). In those 13 games in the beginning of May before his injury”, Garcia’s average dipped to .265 and his ISO to .041; however, he only struck out three times on those 53 plate appearances.
I wrote in that May 15th article that Garcia needed to find a way to continue with the trend of less strikeouts while finding his power stroke of the past. Garcia talked at the time about taking a new approach to the plate with two strikes.
“I work to select a good pitch in the zone [earlier in the count], and I feel pretty good right now,” Garcia said. “I am not trying to do too much when I get two strikes, now. Last year, I tried to do too much when I had two strikes. Now, I swing just to try to get the ball in play.”
During that span earlier in the season, Garcia was intentionally working on hitting with two strikes, and the results that he was used to getting in the past were not there. The Pirates goal with Garcia going into this season was to cut down on the strikeouts and hope that the results would come in the process.
On May 22nd, Garcia was inserted back into the Curve lineup and has produced a slash of .356/.396/.589 since. That would mean an ISO of .233, a huge turnaround from where he was in April and early May. The strikeout rate has come back to earth a little since, but a 20.6% strikeout rate will certainly do for Garcia. He hit his first home run of the season on May 28th and now has five total on the year. He also has four doubles and a triple in that span between May 22nd and today.
Another factor in the huge turnaround for Garcia may be a psychological part of the game that cannot be represented by numbers. Keon Broxton was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis shortly after Garcia’s return to the lineup on May 28th. Broxton and Garcia played together in Altoona all of last season, and both have been compared to each other often, having a similar upside as a Major League player.
When Broxton was promoted, Garcia made his way to center field to take over as the Curve’s every day center fielder. The move to center field has helped him thrive, showing off his extreme arm strength and his speed. He also became the leader of the Curve outfield on a team that is winning a lot of games and sitting at the top of the Eastern League standings.
Psychologically, Garcia may have needed to flip a switch after Broxton’s promotion, with a “if he can do it why can’t I” attitude. Curve Manager Tom Prince will agree that a change like that can definitely motivate a young man to perform.
“A young player always has something to prove, to themselves and to everyone else,” Prince said. “Willy is having a fun time playing center field, and that will make a difference in how you go about your business. He has the arm strength, speed, and power to man an important position like center field. He’s making people change their minds and opinions on him now, and it has been fun to watch.”
Neal Huntington spoke with the Pittsburgh media Sunday, including our own Nate Barnes, and talked about what Garcia needs to do to move up.
“Willy and Keon Broxton both probably deserve to go to Triple-A,” Huntington said. “The challenge is when you’re a playoff-caliber team you’re looking at depth options in Triple-A, sometimes you block a prospect that’s maybe ready to go to the next level…In Willy’s case, we challenged him to command the zone better…and he’s been doing that. When he stays in the zone he’s a threat, he’s got great bat speed, he’s got great power. When he makes pitchers come to him he’s going to do damage…Willy’s getting very close to being ready to take that next challenge as well.”
If you are someone who would rather skip all of the statistics and just find out more about a player, I will help you out. In short, Willy Garcia has been extremely good for the Curve. Through more than two months of this season, he has certainly improved on the aspects of the game that the Pirates have asked him to improve. Continued success in power numbers and a respectable strikeout rate is exactly what Willy Garcia needs to do to continue his development.