Chicago White Sox

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

SEATTLE -- Though he has never been hotter at the plate for a longer period than right now, Avisail Garcia strives to remain level-headed.

Acquired in July 2013 from the Detroit Tigers, Garcia has easily been the best White Sox hitter throughout the seven-week old 2017 campaign.

Not only has his production been outstanding, Garcia -- hitting .352/.397/.566 in 155 plate appearances -- has had few off nights through the team’s first 39 games. He went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 White Sox loss at the Seattle Mariners, his 15th multi-hit effort of the season.

But through his experience and discussions with peers and coaches, Garcia has determined the way he operates best is if he can stay right down the middle. He wants to avoid getting too high or low and just focus. Garcia hopes his mental approach can help him sustain what could be a breakthrough season.

“You’ve got to forget everything quick,” Garcia said. “To stay in this game, forget about everything quick. Doing good, forget about it. Doing bad, forget about it because tomorrow’s another game. You’re doing good today, but maybe not tomorrow.”

Garcia has dealt with several ups and many downs to reach this point. His two full seasons in the majors have been marred by bursts of hot stretches followed by lengthy cold spells.

In that period, Garcia hit .252/.308/.374 with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs in 1,054 plate appearances -- good for a wRC+ of 85, according to fangraphs.com. The league average baseline for wRC+ is 100.

But Garcia has found something this season. He’s staying focused in each plate appearance and trying to carry over the approach he used with runners in scoring position in 2016 when he hit .355.

The mental shift has helped lead to a four percent reduction in strikeout-rate and a strong run through nearly two months of play. Garcia entered Thursday third in the American League in average and seventh in OPS (.948), slugging percentage (.553) and RBIs (28). He’s also second on the team with six home runs.

“He has been giving us really good at-bats, just trying to focus on getting pitches he can handle and not giving at-bats away,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been doing a very nice job.

“His at-bats in general overall have been much better, more consistent. His approaches have been solid. I think he’s taking the idea of what he wants to do at the plate and maintaining a consistent approach. That’s as easily as I can explain. It’s been very consistent.”

Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had a lively, ongoing discussion with Garcia dating back to 2014.

He’s more the psychologist than the fix-it guy. Most hitting coaches are mental gurus rather than technicians. Steverson’s role is to be the “little guy that sits on (Garcia’s) shoulder” and ask if what he’s doing is the right thing.

What Steverson has seen from Garcia this season is a significant boost in confidence. But that belief isn’t only based on all the success Garcia has experienced, Steverson said. It’s just as critical that Garcia understands his failures. His understanding of the down times has helped Garcia make quicker fixes when failure has returned and he hopes they can help him avoid a lengthy slump.

“The only way to be sustainable is to learn both sides and how that applies to you,” Steverson said. “I think that’s where we are with him. You can’t control what a guy throws, but you can control your brain and what you do when you’re in there. What do I want to do? Is he controlling my at-bat or am I controlling my at-bat?

“It’s necessary. If you don’t learn from it, you can’t move forward. You take this game for granted or the good times for granted, and you don’t understand what you’re doing during that time, or even when you’re not going well, then that’s where the game will bring you back to your knees and say, ‘You need to work on you again.’ It’s all a process of who you are. To change something, you have to know what you’re changing.”

Garcia thinks his ability to handle the ups and downs is the key to his consistency. He knows that even former teammate Miguel Cabrera has days with rough at-bats. Though his previous seasons have been a struggle, Garcia looks at it all as a positive because of the knowledge he has gained. Garcia has learned to take or leave all the different advice he’s gathered over the years and stick with what’s best for his individual game.

He thinks that experience has helped him stay more focused. He’s pleased with how he battles during each plate appearance and how even the outs are hard right now. And that has helped him stay as grounded as he’s been in his career.

“Always when you have tough situations, like those years, you’re learning,” Garcia said. “You’ve just got to be the same. Don’t try to be too high or try to be down, try to be in the middle. This game is like that. You go up and down, up and down, up and down. You’ve got to stay in the middle and never change.

“Think about it a little bit and then throw it away.”

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Yoan Moncada wrapped up his first Crosstown Series — in front of the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere he’ll experience in, likely, a while — with an 0-4 showing in the White Sox 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday. 

The 22-year-old had mixed results facing the defending World Series champions, striking out four times in five at-bats on Monday and hitting his first career home run off Jake Arrieta on Wednesday. His final numbers for these four Crosstown games: 17 plate appearances, two hits, two walks, two runs, eight strikeouts and one hit by pitch. 

Moncada is off to a slow start in his second stint in the majors, but he’s drawing plenty of walks (12.5 percent) and probably has been victimized by some bad luck (a .118 batting average on balls in play which, to say the least, is exceedingly low). 

Manager Rick Renteria, though, likes Moncada’s even-keeled demeanor and his ability to handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day grind of the regular season. 

“What he’s going to be able to do is minimize how much he gets wrapped up in frustration, as opposed to taking the at-bat, the last at-bat, going through pitch by pitch and trying to figure out what it was he wrapped in his approach,” Renteria said. “Younger players usually get very, very frustrated and lose that moment to gain some knowledge. Failure is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s actually something that can produce a lot of positives. The thing is to try to get them to understand as quickly as possible so they can take those moments and gain information. 

“That’s why his even-keeled approach and even-keeled attitude (will help). He’s got fire. It’s not that he doesn’t care. That’s where people — for a lot of players who are calm or even-keeled, they have fire, they have desire, but they know how to compartmentalize and separate those things and try to gain something from every moment, positive or negative.”

Moncada already took that clear-eyed approach to self-evaluation in the minor leagues, and said that hasn’t changed now that he’s at baseball’s highest level. 

“I’m just keeping the same routine that I was using in the minors,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “And the whole year, I’m just keeping with the things that have been giving me results.”

There’s not much of a common thread between Moncada’s brief call-up with the Boston Red Sox last September and his first few games with the White Sox. Moncada was overmatched in his 2016 debut, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances and only drawing one walk. He had four hits, though, so his way-too-small-sample-size BABIP was .571. 

Moncada looks like a different player this year, carrying over his strong Triple-A walk rate (13.6 percent) to his nascent tenure with the White Sox. Eventually, the hits are likely to start falling as long as he doesn’t get out of the approach that got him here — and made him baseball’s biggest prospect in the process. 

“He’s been doing all the work that he has to do to adjust to this level,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s been doing his same routine from Triple-A and I think that’s something good because you have to stick with the things that are giving you good results.” 

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

Nearly eight months into their rebuild, the White Sox have accrued an eye-popping amount of young talent. The franchise continues to receive kudos even in trading a pair of relievers this week to add depth to what might be the best farm system in baseball.

But having the best farm system -- the White Sox have eight of MLBPipeline.com’s top 100 prospects -- won’t mean much until it’s realized.

Well versed on the subject having experienced it on his own, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the White Sox just how uncertain the rebuilding process can be. In Rizzo’s eyes, it wasn’t just talent that got the Cubs over the hump, it was timing, too.

“It happened fast, but it could have went the other way, too,” Rizzo said. “We’re lucky with how everything turned out. Plus, a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

[MORE: Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors]

Similar to Yoan Moncada’s arrival last week, Rizzo was the first [hyped prospect to be promoted] after Theo Epstein’s plan went into place. Acquired the previous winter from San Diego, Rizzo reached the majors midway through the 2012 season with the Cubs only a few months into their rebuild. The three-time All-Star didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first new face the Cubs would introduce to their audience. While Rizzo often [was aware of skepticism of Epstein’s plan], he said he never felt the same pressure from fans. Rizzo also said he can understand why not all the Cubs faithful were on board.

“I think I was naïve and happy to be back in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “You’ve just got to focus on playing baseball and not worry about everything else that you can’t control.

“I didn’t feel (pressure) at all. I know people were calling for the upper front office’s jobs. But they had a plan and they had a vision and they preached it the entire time.”

“As a fan I can understand why you get upset because you want to win. As a fan of football or whatever sport, if my team doesn’t win, I get mad. But obviously they knew what they were doing.”

So far the White Sox fan base has been mostly supportive of Rick Hahn’s efforts and embraced the idea of building through the farm system. But not everyone is on board with a 25-man roster teardown that appears to have the club hurtling toward its first 100-loss season since 1970.

This week’s Crosstown series is a reminder there are tough times ahead for the White Sox.

The Cubs lost a combined 197 games in 2012 and 2013 and 89 games in 2014. The second half of the 2017 season could be extremely difficult for a White Sox club that has traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings all since December.

Rizzo thinks the way the Cubs handled those difficulties played into their success in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s life,” Rizzo said. “There are tough times in anything. There are going to be good times and bad times so it’s all about how you approach it and how you handle it.

“We always knew the potential we had, it was just a matter of going out and doing it. Ball’s bouncing your way, calls going your way and staying together.”