Chris Garcia: Jack Cust 2.0?

A little over a year ago, I spent several hours looking through recent independent league statistics. It was mainly because I was interested to see in what sort of MLB veterans were still playing somewhere, and it’s always fun to have that “WHOA! I REMEMBER THAT GUY!” moment. But I was also interested to see if there were any very young players tearing those leagues up.

One player who caught my eye in that regard is Chris Garcia. Fast forward to today, and Garcia is no longer an obscure independent leaguer; he’s a bona fide prospect, even if nobody else has realized that yet.

Let’s get some background on Garcia. First off, he’s a big first baseman out of St. Petersburg JC who was drafted by the Angels in the 15th round of the 2007 draft.

Garcia split his time between the Angels’ two rookie ball affiliates in both 2007 and 2008, and simply tore the cover off the ball. He hit .303/.426/.452 in 2007 and .366/.459/.493. So, of course, the Angels did the sensible thing and…released him.

I’m tempted to think that there was some sort of off-field issue with Garcia that prompted his release, because it would seem foolish to deny such a productive player a chance at full-season ball. Yes, he’s not a good defensive player, but you don’t see many .441 OBPs from teenagers, either.

In any case, 2009 saw the lefty swinger play six games in the independent Can-Am League before moving to the independent American Association. Between the two leagues, he hit .358/.437/.462.

He returned to the American Association in 2010 and was the league’s top hitter, putting up an astounding .383/.490/.597 line as the second-youngest regular in the league. In doing so, he remedied the one weakness in his offensive game–his low power production for a first baseman–by swatting 14 homers in 93 games.

That tour de force prompted a look from the Braves, who signed the now-23-year-old Garcia and assigned him to Low-A Rome this year. Garcia responded by doing what he’s always done–crush the ball. He’s hitting .319/.428/.543 this season, including a .333/.440/.583 line against right-handed pitchers.

Garcia is obviously set apart from most players by his uncanny control of the strike zone. He has a 58/50 K/BB in 75 games this year, and between affiliated and independent ball, he has a 23o/223 K/BB for his career. Mind you, that’s 230 strikeouts in 334 games, so even though he draws a ton of walks, Garcia isn’t going down on strikes every other at-bat.

He’s had no trouble carrying over 2010′s power spike over to affiliated ball, and has launched 13 homers in 75 games. In many ways, he profiles similarly to Jack Cust, as a player who has 20-HR power but whose greatest asset is the ability to get on base.

Like Cust, Garcia isn’t much of a defensive player, although unlike the former A’s slugger, Garcia is exclusively a first baseman, not an outfielder. Well, I shouldn’t say exclusively–he got some time at third base in indie ball in ’09, but an .884 fielding percentage squashed that idea pretty quickly (although he did somehow make it through five games at second without an error that year).

The Braves organization clearly isn’t the best place for Garcia–they have an established first baseman of their own in Freddie Freeman (who’s younger than Garcia, to boot!), and such a defensively limited player is best off in the AL, anyway. But if he continues to make noise with his bat and ultimately keeps hitting in the upper minors, Garcia would be a prime trade candidate for an organization in need of some thump–just like Cust ultimately turned out to be, although hopefully Garcia won’t languish in the minors for as long as Cust did.

In his five years since being drafted, Garcia’s hit .351/.452/.520. While he certainly has limitations, it’s time to stop ignoring him.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Chris Garcia Rome Braves

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