The minor league regular season came to an end in September, but many have kept on playing in winter leagues (primarily in the Caribbean).
One of those who continued his season in winter ball is KC Royals minor leaguer Carlos Garcia.
Garcia began the 2015 season with Low-A Lexington, but finished it with High-A Wilmington as a Northern Division Champion (and falling just short of a Carolina League title).
Garcia hit a solid .254 with the Legends in 35 games and bumped his average up to .274 in 78 games with the Blue Rocks. He hit 11 doubles, eight triples, and a home run, scored 36 runs and drove in 26 with Wilmington. Garcia also stole 21 bases at each level in 2015.
Garcia has a decent understanding of the strike zone, as he had a combined .346 on-base percentage in 2015 (47 walks compared to 78 strikeouts).
In the playoffs, Blue Rocks manager Brian Buchanan thought about benching Garcia against Lynchburg in the Northern Division finals because the Hillcats were throwing a left-hander and Garcia was only hitting .164 against lefties. But Buchanan stuck with Garcia and he rewarded him by going 4-for-4 in Game 1 and 2-for-4 in the Division clinching victory. He went 8-for-19 in the postseason with four runs scored.
I was asked quite a bit towards the end of the season about position players to watch with the Blue Rocks and I was always quick to name Garcia. I was most impressed with how he made adjustments at the plate, not only from at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch.
Problem was, I couldn’t get a good read on his defensive skills at second base because he was the DH in most of the games I attended (34 of the 78 games he played, plus all fivebruce games in the postseason). In the 44 games at second base, he committed six errors.
Garcia is currently playing winter ball in his hometown of Margarita, Venezuela. His team clinched a Venezuelan Winter League playoff spot last night (after winning just nine games in the first half).
Playing in your hometown isn’t something many players get the privilege to do. “It’s a great experience,” Garcia said. “Not too many players can do that. It’s good to know that you have great support from the fans. But when the fans have seen you growing up like a professional baseball player and a person is even better.”
It also means his family gets to see him play in every game, something he relishes because he had not seen them since leaving for spring training in early 2015.
As Margarita clinched a VWL playoff spot on Wednesday, there were close to 8,000 fans in attendance, much larger than he plays in front of in the minors. Outside of the size, how are the crowds different?
“Here is all about the win and fans are really loud,” Garcia said.
He hasn’t played a lot (22 games) in the VWL, but he is playing all over. Not only has Garcia played second base, but he has also played third base and shortstop, and is learning the outfield (which is at the request of the Royals). “It’s really fun [playing the outfield]. I like to make long sprints to catch the balls.”
Garcia still prefers second base, but “I’m really enjoying playing the outfield.” He is also learning the outfield from some teammates with Margarita, Junior Sosa and Jhorman Rodriguez.
Though he has played in 22 of Margarita’s 62 games, most have come as a pinch runner. How does he prepare?
“After the seventh inning, I start to do some stretches to get mentally and physically ready for that situation,” he said.
Since November 24th, Garcia has just two plate appearances. Overall, he is 4-for-23 (.174) with a triple, an RBI, and eight runs scored. He has two walks compared to three strikeouts and has stolen three bases (but has been caught twice).
Against lefties, Garcia is 4-for-8.
Margarita’s roster is full of veterans, both Latin and American. Garcia is taking advantage of having those players around. “Of course we have a lot of players with experience in the big leagues and every day I try to learn something from them.”
“Game situations. The Royals want me to learn how to play the outfield now. I have got good experience here in the outfield and I work on it every day.”
Playing in winter ball usually means you will play against guys who are your teammates from spring training through the regular season ending in the minors. That was also true of Garcia.
Infielder Humberto Arteaga (who was a teammate since 2011) played with Magallanes and the two teams played against each other a few times before Arteaga’s winter ball season came to a close.
What was that like?
“It’s awesome. We talk before, during, and after the game. We have a really good friendship….It’s really fun [to play against Arteaga]. He’s a good competitor. He always plays hard.”
Garcia has always wanted to play baseball, something he started doing at just four years old. Playing baseball is “what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Hopefully, he gets that wish.
Thanks to Carlos for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck to him in the VWL playoffs and heading into spring training!