Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#8: Anthony Garcia, OF
Opening Day 2016 Age: 24
2015 Level: Double A Springfield, Triple A Memphis
Relevant Numbers: 12.4% BB rate, 149 wRC+ (Spr), 119 wRC+ (Mem), .194 ISO
So, what's so great about this guy?
Simply put, Anthony Garcia can hit.
Actually, scratch that.
Anthony Garcia can produce. That's probably a better way to put it.
The reason I say produce instead of hit is because saying a player can simply hit calls to mind a certain type of offensive profile, that of an elite bat-control hitter, capable of peppering line drives to all fields and making contact with nearly everything a pitcher throws his way. Anthony Garcia, on the other hand, simply produces offensively.
Which isn't to say he isn't capable of peppering line drives to all fields; Garcia has a balanced, line drive-heavy approach to hitting that should serve him well as he moves up to the big leagues. He has the strength in his swing to hit the ball out of the park, but his approach leads to more doubles to right-center that moonshots pulled to left.
Garcia has also, at times in his career, shown outstanding patience at the plate, though admittedly that approach comes and goes. His introduction to Cardinal prospect mavens came back in 2010, when he beat up on Appy League pitching as a member of the Johnson City Cardinals, posting a 13.0% walk rate and just 12.3% strikeout rate as an eighteen year old virtual unknown from Puerto Rico. As introductions go, one could hardly ask for much better.
As Garcia moved up the ladder, though, his plate approach didn't always hold together. In 2012, making his full-season debut at low-A Quad Cities, he struck out 24% of the time, while walking just under 8%. He still managed to put up a 137 wRC+ that season, though, compensating for his fading patience at the plate with a .245 ISO that included 19 home runs in under 450 plate appearances. It was a fairly remarkable power spike for the Midwest League, and pointed toward Garcia perhaps being a slightly different kind of hitter than we had initially believed.
Then came Palm Beach.
In 2013, Garcia was promoted up the ladder to High Palm Beach, in the Florida State League. The FSL is a fairly brutal place to hit in general, and Roger Dean Stadium, where the Cardinals play their spring training games, host their complex league clubs, and also field the team called Palm Beach (though it's actually in Jupiter), has become especially notorious the last few seasons. Garcia went there, and he basically tanked.
The 2013 season was a rough one, as Garcia saw his plate discipline decline even further, striking out nearly a quarter of the time (24.6%, to be exact), and seeing his walk rate fall all the way below 7%. His overall line for the season, .217/.286/.383, was actually good enough to translate to a 90 wRC+, to give you some idea of how awful the hitting conditions in the FSL are, but for a bat-first corner outfielder whose calling card was always going to be offensive production, that's not going to get it done.
His season line was pulled down even more by a .257 batting average on balls in play, but while it would be easy to write that off as bad luck, I have to admit to being a bit concerned.
One of the intriguing things about Garcia, particularly the last few years, is his propensity for hitting the ball in the air. Since 2012, the first season Garcia demonstrated that power spike, he has consistently had some of the lowest groundball rates among his batted-ball profile of any player in the Cardinals' system. Which, for the most part, is a fairly good thing; flyballs don't turn into hits quite as often as grounders, but are much more likely to be impactful hits when they do. Why it concerns me with Garcia is when you look at his two seasons in Palm Beach, both come with BABIPs in the .250s. To me, that looks like a possible indication of a player hitting the ball in the air a ton, but not having enough oomph in the bat to overcome a difficult offensive environment, i.e. a ballpark that plays big, and feeling a disproportionate level of damage done to his production.
Which, of course, would be fine if it was just the Florida State League. You know, if it wasn't for the fact the Cardinals also happen to play in a park that suppresses power to a huge degree.
Anyhow, Garcia's second season in Palm Beach was much better. He improved his approach dramatically, pushing his walk rate back up close to 10% and dropping his strikeout rate to 16.4%. His isolated slugging was still bad that year at .157, and a .252 BABIP still speaks of a player not being able to overcome the environment, but the 34 point boost in OBP from 2013-'14 was proof positive of a hitter who had seen the light as far as plate approach.
Garcia opened 2015 in Springfield, finally, and promptly set about demolishing the league, putting up a 149 wRC+ with a 13.0% walk rate and just 15.6% K rate in 346 plate appearances. For most players, moving up from High A tou Double A is the biggest, most difficult jump they've made to that point in their careers; for Garcia, escaping Palm Beach was liberating. His ISO in Double A was very good, if not eye-popping, at .191, and his BABIP was a very normal .317. He hit the ball hard, hit the ball to all fields, and controlled the strike zone. He didn't get exceptionally lucky en route to that near-50% better than average hitting line; he earned every bit of that.
Late in the season, Garcia moved up to Memphis, and wasn't overwhelmed by Triple A pitching any more than he had been Double A. The walks went down and the strikeouts went up, but not dramatically, and he posted a .202 ISO in the cozy parks of the Pacific Coast League. After the season, Garcia was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule V draft, and there is every reason to believe he could be one of the first players called up to the big club if an injury occurs to a corner outfielder.
As you can probably tell by the detail with which I just recounted Garcia's trip through the minors, I find him to be one of the more fascinating players in the system. At his best, he controls the zone, forces pitchers into throwing him hittable pitches, and is capable of driving the ball to all fields. He gets on base at a high clip due to an above-average walk rate, and doesn't strike out a ton. In short, he's essentially the perfect Cardinal hitter, at least of the past half-decade, when the prototype seems to be players like Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, David Freese (the 2012 version of Freese, especially), and some version of Matt Carpenter, as well as the hitter Stephen Piscotty specifically looked like in 2015 at Triple A, which is also the performance that got him called up to the big leagues. Garcia checks most all of the boxes the Redbirds seem to like in their hitters, and I can't say I'm not excited to see him get to St. Louis and start performing in the same understated but tremendously effective way so many of the Cards' other hitters have in recent years.
That being said, I also worry about what we saw with Garcia in Palm Beach, when a difficult, power-suppressing hitting environment both seemed to rob him of potency and severely undermine his approach. I wonder if hitting a handful of flyballs that were home runs in Quad Cities but suddenly died short of the track in Palm Beach got into his head, or if it's a simple reality of the way he hits that a park that kills power is going to kill him specifically. He's not a great defender, nor a great baserunner, so all the value you're going to get from Garcia is by necessity going to come from the bat. And if Busch Stadium does to the bat what Roger Dean did, then there may be a real problem.
Nonetheless, I'm betting on Anthony Garcia. He's become a forgotten prospect among national list-makers, I can only assume due to two full seasons stuck at Palm Beach putting up lackluster numbers. His overall package of offensive production, though, could make a big-time impact at the major league level if it translates, which is something I can't say for many other prospects in the upper levels of this system.
Player Comp: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Matt Holliday's offensive skillset is a remarkably good fit for what Garcia brings to the table. He may never have the power of peak Holliday, but the on-base skills, better than average contact rate, and all-fields line drive approach are very much in line with what I think we could see from Anthony Garcia.