One of the best or at least most surprising stories of 2021’s baseball season has to be Adolis Garcia. The versatile outfielder for the Texas Rangers didn’t even start the season with the big club. In fact 29 teams passed on signing him after Texas designated him for assignment at the end of Spring Training. I wrote a piece at that point speculating whether his path might lead to Japan or Korea. Garcia bet on himself though and accepted a Minor League assignment with the Texas Rangers. That bet has paid off. Garcia has become the first rookie ever to accumulate 30 HR, 10SB and 10 outfield assists.
For the second year in a row a Cuban was the favourite to win Rookie of the Year in the American League. On the strength of an incredible 2020 playoff, former Pinar del Rio and Tampa’s Randy Arozarena entered as the pundits pick. Arozarena will garner many votes but Adolis Garcia is going to make things very interesting. This follows 2020 with former Ciego de Avila teammate Luis Robert entering the season as the chic choice for the award. Garcia and Robert were just teenagers when they anchored the outfield for a dynastic Tigres squad. That championship experience appears to have served both players well in their transition to the highest league in the baseball world.
Garcia at 28 years of age might represent a unique sample. He played extensively in the Cuban National Series and even won an MVP yet left at a young enough age to still be a prospect. Adolis is closer to José Abreu or Yuli Gurriel than the new crop of youngsters signing in their early 20s. Where Abreu and Gurriel had instant impacts, Garcia had to toil in the minors for the Cardinals and Rangers. But for an emergency call up, he was as close to being out of professional baseball as being the feel good story of 2021. Interestingly his Major League numbers are similar to what he did in the minors.
Garcia signed with the Cardinals at the advent of new international signing rules. The $2.5 million he received pales in comparison to the dollars his National Series compatriots received. This might have also indicated the Cardinals perception of his prospect value. Garcia would appear in 21 games for St. Louis in 2018 but hit an anemic .118 illustrating little discipline and none of the power he obviously possesses. The old adage that nobody ever walked their way off the island still holds true, but the power has been on display in 2021.
Garcia has also showcased his other physical tools such as his arm. He is second in the Majors in outfield assists and has split time between Center and Right Field. Adolis has put his legs to good use as well with 13 steals. He will have to work on many aspects of his game however if he wants to avoid the proverbial sophmore slump. His .244 batting average is bound to create debate between purists and analytics advocates. Strike outs are more acceptable than ever but one area that could see improvement is cutting down on his 183 K’s and increasing his 31 walks. The power production can compensate for much but his .289 OBP will have to improve if he intends to stick in The Show.
His story is still a highlight of 2021 and has included many clutch highlights. The adjustments he makes moving forward will go a long way in determining if he is of the calibre of Abreu or Gurriel. They are arguably the greatest Cuban hitters of their generation. They at the least always put together professional at bats and at best have captured an MVP and World Series respectively. Garcia may project more as a Jorge Soler type of hitter. Soler set the Cuban single season record with 48 HR in 2019. He has struggled in the two successive seasons but has been somewhat resurgent since joining Atlanta near the trade deadline.
For now, Garcia is found gold for a rebuilding Rangers organization. He is garnering much attention as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. Garcia is also under team control for the foreseeable future. In today’s launch angle obsessed game you can do a lot worse than a 30 home run threat with a canon for an arm and above average speed on the base paths. This is likely his physical peak and for his long term financial future it is imperative to stay healthy and productive. Breaking in at an advanced age hurts his contract leverage longer term but for now he has at least re-established his overall value. This might still result in a solid payday in MLB but it also keeps the Korean or Japanese options open.