Why isn't Avisail Garcia thinking about an All-Star bid? 'Long season, man'

Why isn't Avisail Garcia thinking about an All-Star bid? 'Long season, man'

Avisail Garcia continues to make a strong case to make his first American League All-Star team, but Monday’s birthday boy isn’t thinking that far into the future. 

Garcia, who turned 26 on Monday, notched two hits, drove in three runs and stole a base as the White Sox blasted the Baltimore Orioles, 10-7, in front of 17,665 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Through 60 games — half of how many he played in 2016 — Garcia is hitting .333 with a .921 OPS. His 10 home runs are second on the White Sox and he leads the team with 45 RBIs. 

Those are numbers certainly worthy of an All-Star roster spot. So is Garcia already planning his flight to Miami in July?

“No,” Garcia said. “Long season, man.”

That Garcia is even under consideration for the 2017 All-Star Game is improbable given the seemingly-rigid trajectory he was on heading into this season. From 2015-2016, Garcia slashed .252/.308/.374 and averaged 12 home runs and 55 RBIs per year. 

Entering Monday, Garcia ranked 12th among American League position players in WAR (2.1) and was in the top 10 in batting average, RBIs and OPS. As of June 6’s most recent American League All-Star balloting update, Garcia had the fifth-most votes among outfielders (479,349), about 40,000 votes behind Boston’s Mookie Betts in fourth and about 75,000 votes shy of Cleveland’s Michael Brantley for the third and final starting spot. All-Star voting ends June 29.

“His approaches have been consistent,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s still seeing the ball very well and controlling the strike zone better. It’s been a good run and hopefully he adds to it as the season progresses.”

Even if Garcia isn’t in Terry Francona’s starting lineup July 11 at Marlins Park, he would seem to be a veritable lock for his first All-Star nod unless his likely-unsustainable .404 batting average on balls in play craters over the next month. The highest BABIP in the last five seasons was .394 (Atlanta’s Chris Johnson in 2013), which suggests that eventually, Garcia won’t see base hits fall in at quite the same rate he’s enjoying now. 

But for now, Garcia hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. In the third, he laced a double to center to plate two runs — one of which scored on an error, so Garcia didn’t earn both RBIs — and an inning later, a sharp RBI single brought home two more runs. 

“The balls in play for him are productive,” Renteria said, knocking on what he hoped was wood on the White Sox interview room dais. “Where the base on balls might keep a line moving he’s driving in runs and actually driving the ball. His at bats are good. Hopefully it continues, he lays off pitches not in the zone and continue to get the hits.”

Garcia is walking in only 3.7 percent of his at-bats this year, down from between 6 and 7.5 percent from 2014-2016. The aggressiveness has suited him well, allowing him to go into each at-bat with that consistent approach Renteria praised. 

“I just try to swing at strikes,” Garcia said. “Swing at strikes and don’t try to do too much, because when I try to do too much nothing happens.”

Garcia hasn’t had an extended run of success like this since he broke through with the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Despite some spurts of early success — like the five hits and three RBIs he had in the 2012 American League Championship Series and encouraging debut with the White Sox in 2013  — most of Garcia’s major league career has been an exercise in dealing with failure. 

While he’s only 26, Garcia played in his 469th game Monday night. And he’s using the lessons he learned over the last five years to take a big-picture approach to how well he's hitting this year — and if that means he'll join the best players in the game in Miami next month. 

“I have more experience right now, I’ve been in the league for a little bit and you just gotta keep working,” Garcia said. “Long season and we have to play the game tomorrow.” 

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”