Game 8: Garcia makes an impression
Jim Leyland has been pretty vocal in his praise of Tigers prospects lately. He said Justin Henry has “turned into a prospect” as a left-handed hitting utility player, a commodity whose value Don Kelly has shown the last few years. He said Casey Crosby “could be a really good Major League pitcher” given some work with his command.
On Avisail Garcia, the 20-year-old Venezuelan outfielder with Miguel Cabrera’s body frame and a leadoff hitter’s speed, Leyland didn’t have to say much. Garcia’s play Saturday in just the later innings made his case for him.
“He’s got a great arm. He’s a very good outfielder. He’s a very good young talent,” Leyland said. “He got a big hit. He’s just a good young player. When he pops, it’s going to be big-time.”
He’s a distance from that yet, and the ultimate question with his Major League future will come down to whether he hits. His athletic ability, however, is unquestioned, though it got tested Saturday.
Garcia has made several running or sliding catches already this spring, and his loping journey to run down Jesus Flores’ flared fly ball in foul territory in shallow right field was one of the better ones given the distance he had to cover. But to then whirl and fire to third base was something else.
The throw was strong enough that he nearly got the ball to third base on the fly. Even with the short hop, he got it there easily ahead of the runner. But then, the runner might have frozen in shock anyway at the sight of the ball getting there.
Garcia didn’t have a doubt. He said through an interpreter that he knew the runner would go, and that he knew he had a play. Asked what he thought his chances were when he released the ball, he had a one-word answer: “Out.”
“That was a heckuva play,” Leyland said. “He’s a talented kid. He’s got talent.”
Asked what was bigger, his double play from right field or his double that put him on base for the tying run in the eighth inning, Garcia had another one-word answer: “Both.”
The double, too, showed off his athleticism; he was flying around first base as the ball hit the gap.
At some point, maybe in the first round of cuts, Garcia will head across the street to minor-league camp. But he has an excellent chance to open the season at Double-A Erie, where we should get a pretty good idea what kind of offense he’s got. The Florida State League, where Garcia spent last season at Class A Lakeland, tends to be more of a pitcher-friendly league. Between the smaller ballparks of the Eastern League and the friendly confines of Jerry Uht Park in Erie — including a hockey arena out beyond left field, he’s definitely headed to a hitter-friendly environment. He could be very fun to watch.
What we learned: Brandon Inge has some punch back in his bat at age 34, a strong suggestion that his offseason workout routine and added muscle has made at least some difference.
What to remember from Game 8: It isn’t just the stuff that Justin Verlander can throw that makes him good, or the attention he places on the most minute details. It’s also the muscle memory Verlander has built up in his mechanics that work, and his ability in recent years to fix himself and work back into a good form when he doesn’t have it at game’s start. After a first-inning in which he couldn’t locate much of anything to his standards, he rebounded in the second for back-to-back called third strikes on offspeed pitches.
Hey, it’s only Spring Training: The good news for Austin Jackson is that he seems to have a quicker swing. The bad news is that this quicker swing doesn’t do much good if he’s caught looking at strike three with his bat on his shoulder. He struck out looking in each of his first two plate appearances Saturday, then drew a walk in his third and final time up before being replaced by a pinch-runner. That means he didn’t put a ball in play today. He has struck out seven times in 17 plate appearances this camp, but he’s 4-for-7 when he puts the ball in play.
The highlight play you missed: If this game had been televised, Garcia’s throw from foul territory in right field to third base, nearly on the fly, would’ve been one of the best defensive plays you’ve seen in quite a while. As such, it fits this category. Since that was mentioned already, I’ll offer up a bonus: Alex Avila threw out Nationals speedster Roger Bernadina trying to steal second, and he did it with a one-hop throw that still beat Bernadina to second. Washington went 0-for-2 on stolen-base attempts off Avila.
Fun fact: Garcia was signed in 2007 for a $200,000 bonus.
None-game note of the day: Both Miguel Cabrera and Don Kelly were on the field early Saturday morning to take ground balls from the coaching staff. Some were off the fungo bat; others were thrown by a coach.
Looking ahead: The Tigers break up into split squads for the first time this spring, with both teams going on the road for 1:05pm ET games against the Phillies in Clearwater and the Astros in Kissimmee. For pitching assignments and travel rosters, please check the next entry down on this blog.
To-do list for Sunday: See how Drew Smyly reacts to Major League hitters in a starting assignment. He’ll be pitching against the Astros. Depending on Danny Worth and a side injury that Leyland mentioned, top prospect Nick Castellanos might also get a start at third for the Tigers if Danny Worth can’t go due to a strained side.