Deep Dive: Leury García’s past, present and future with the White Sox

Uber-utility: García should be a key contributor to the 2020 White Sox. (@leurygarcia1)


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

How did he get here?

Signed by the Texas Rangers from the Dominican Republic all the way back in 2007 when he was just 16, Leury García was a slick-fielding shortstop with the reputation of being a good runner but a little skimpy with the bat.

After slashing just .232/.288/.288 with A-level Hickory in 2009, García returned to the Crawdads for 2010 and hit .262 and stole 47 bases in just 89 games. His bat continued to improve in 2011 (A+ Myrtle Beach) and 2012 (Double-A Frisco) where he continued to swipe bases and hit respectably. After starting the 2013 season well with Triple-A Round Rock and scuffling a bit in his rookie season with the Rangers, García was traded to the White Sox on August 9 for outfielder Alex Rios.

John Sickels of Minor League Baseball wrote at the time, “García’s legs and glove will keep him on the fringes of the majors for several years, but bench work is his fate without unusual development with the bat. Players with this profile sometimes surprise us with hitting spikes in their late 20s, but generally that happens for guys who always made contact but just weren’t strong enough to drive the ball. In García’s case, his lack of strength in addition to shaky plate discipline and a high whiff rate augers poorly for his future.”

García did indeed hover in the periphery in the majors during the 2013-16 seasons, hitting a combined .187 in just 128 games, as he spent the majority of that time with Charlotte due primarily to his bat. The 2017 season finally saw García receive significant playing time with the White Sox and he ran with it, slashing .270/.316/.423 in 87 games with 15 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 33 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 13 walks (4.0%) and 69 strikeouts (21.2%). In 2018 playing all positions except first base and catcher, his numbers tailed off a bit as he slashed .271/.303/.376 in 82 games with seven doubles, four triples, four homers, 32 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, nine walks (3.3%) and 69 strikeouts (25.1%).      

García’s 2019 with the White Sox

With a team in dire need of production from its center fielders and right fielders in 2019, García played far more than he should have. In 140 games totaling 577 at-bats with the White Sox, he slashed .279/.310/.378 with 27 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 40 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 21 walks and 139 strikeouts. Sad as it is to believe, his offensive numbers actually topped every Sox outfielder not named Eloy Jiménez. While not great in any area, García did play solid defense at short when Tim Anderson was on the injured list and willingly played everywhere the team needed him. Actually, despite his limited walks, García did excel in one offensive category: BABIP. García ranked sixth among all qualified hitters in this category at .345 — behind only Yoan Moncada, Anderson, Bryan Reynolds, Trevor Story and Christian Yelich.  

Unsurprisingly, much of García’s offensive output came versus the fastball (.325/.344/.429). While his numbers lagged against off-speed pitches (.259/.257/.329), he struggled most of all against breaking pitches (.166/.226/.303). What may have aided in his incredibly high BABIP was his ability to hit the ball to all fields (pull 30.8%, straight 37.2% and opposite field 32.1%). One interesting note is that his hard-hit percentage (29.5%) was well below the league average of 34.5%, which goes to show that it’s not necessarily how hard you hit the ball but where you hit it. One reason why García struggles with taking walks is that he frequently swings at the first pitch (35.3%), far more than the league average of 28.3%. 

García, despite not being a power hitter, fared far better this year at Guaranteed Rate Field (.293/.311/.421) than on the road (.267/.291/.341). Also, like most hitters in the Sox lineup, García fared much better under the lights (.292/.315/.422) than the sun (.258/.302/.304). Perhaps because he played far more games than he ever had throughout his seven-year career, García seemed to tire at the end of the year (.293/.327/.395 pre All-Star break, .262/.288/.327 post All-Star break). As a switch-hitter, he performed much better as a righty (.311/.344/.443) than as a lefty (.264/.294/.348). Garcia performed much better with nobody on base (.295/.330/.407) than with men in scoring position (.206/.214/.250). As one would expect, he hit far better when ahead in the count (.336/.429/.472) than when he was behind (.234/.247/.302).   

Often when asked to play multiple positions, a player’s defensive rating goes down the gutter due to a lack of consistency at each position. In García’s case, he was a huge defensive liability in center field but certainly held his own at the corners. Baseball-Reference gave him a -0.2 defensive rating, which was much better than most other outfielders in the Sox roster not named Adam Engel. When factoring his offense and defense together, García posted a 1.7 bWAR, which was actually quite good when considering his sub-par wRC+ of 83. Considering each WAR is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market and he only earned $1.55 million in 2019, García provided the White Sox with a surplus value of $11.54 million.

What does the future have in store for García?

García is up for one last year of arbitration this year, and is expected to receive a pay increase to $4 million. He would be eligible for free agency after the 2020 season, and it’s unlikely the White Sox extend him, as several minor league outfielders should be ready to receive promotions prior to the 2021 campaign. In the meantime, he likely will compete for starting duties in center field to begin next year assuming that Luis Robert doesn’t make the team out of spring training. Otherwise, García could perhaps fill in as a right field platoon with recent acquisition Nomar Mazara. While it’s true that Engel could also qualify in right, García’s arm plays much better at that position. García does give the team infield flexibility as well, which comes in handy with the increased 26-man roster this season. While García may not have the blazing speed he once had, he still could be useful in pinch-running situations as well.       

 

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Despite my entire family being Cub fans, I grew up listening to Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall on the radio as I listened to the entire season of the South Side Hit Men of '77. While it's true I have a myriad of other interests (American history, classic literature, classic rock, classic country, blues, jazz, gardening, family,etc.--not all in that order), few things aside from family surpass my interest in all things baseball--especially the White Sox.

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I’m a Leury Garcia fan. If the Sox do aquire a right-handed RF/DH bat (Castellanos?) to platoon with Mazara and Collins, I am having a hard time seeing him on the current roster. Engel is your 4th outfielder AND Luis Robert is coming.

In this scenario, there is only one spot for backup infielder and the infielder would need to backup 2B, SS, AND 3B. I don’t see Garcia backing up at 3B, as versatile as he is. This seems more like a role for Mendick or a FA acquisition.