A quick perusal of yesterday’s box score between the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim, California, USA vs. the Cincinnati Reds does reveal a few items of note. There was a Mike Trout sighting, which is always a glorious thing, and future first ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols got some reps, too. There was a large presence of Japanese media in the house to watch both Shohei Ohtani and Shogo Akiyama square off, which was certainly cool from a Reds perspective (seeing as Shogo is their first Japanese player ever). Even Anthony Rendon got to nab a few PAs for his new club, fresh off his gargantuan free agent contract.
It was a 7-3 loss for the Reds, one that most folks won’t remember past their alarm clocks this morning. But if you dig just a little bit deeper into that box score, perhaps you’ll unearth something that might help define the larger direction of where the Reds have been steering their rebuilt ship of late.
All winter long, we heard nonstop rumors about the potential availability of superstar Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, in part due to the obvious lack of desire from Cleveland to offer him a contract worthy enough to keep him around long-term. Fallout from that speculation had the Los Angeles Dodgers interested in Lindor, too, with the off-chance that their own star shortstop, Corey Seager, may well be moveable if Lindor were to be acquired. And while those rumors were flying, the Cincinnati Reds were in the midst of completely revamping their roster at most every position on the diamond to back their rock solid rotation, with the lone exception of one key position - shortstop.
Hitting 8th for the Reds in their Cactus League game yesterday was 21 year old Jose Garcia, who also was manning shortstop for the club. And while the big leaguers were busy big leaguing, the 21 year old prospect socked a pair of dingers off relievers Keynan Middleton and Cam Bedrosian - a pair that has some 365 big league appearances between them. In the process, Garcia began to open just a few more eyes than he already had quietly opened with an under-the-radar 2019 season that saw his prospect status begin to fire on all engines.
Garcia was signed during the now infamous 2016-2017 international signing period, and was inked for some $5 million, so he’s hardly someone about whom nobody knows. I refer to that period as infamous largely due to a) it being the first time in forever when the Reds actually splurged on the international market, and b) because they spent piles of money on Garcia, shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, and pitcher Vlad Gutierrez and, to date, haven’t exactly received a ton in return from them. But while Rodriguez and Gutierrez have sputtered a bit in their trips through the minors, Garcia seemed to finally find solid footing during the 2019 season, and even began to flourish.
Posting an offensive line some 31% better than league average is an impressive thing to do. For reference, star Reds 3B Eugenio posted one 33% better than league average in his 49 dinger campaign through MLB in 2019. Garcia, meanwhile, was stuck in the extremely pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2019, and while his overall counting stats don’t jump off the page when viewed in an overall context, his league-specific numbers were absolutely eyebrow-raisers, especially considering they came from a player playing plus defense at the most important position on the diamond.
That 131 wRC+ in the FSL was backed by an OPS (.779) that was the 4th best in the entire league, while his .436 Slugging Percentage ranked 3rd best league-wide. His 37 doubles for the Daytona Tortugas (A+) were the single most in the league, 5 better than second best. He even ranked 4th in total bases, and did all that while posting just the 25th most AB (404) in the league last year. And while he hasn’t yet rocketed up prospect rankings across the board, he certainly caught the eyes of many with his performances with the Tortugas, landing as the second ranked Reds prospect per FanGraphs, checking just five spots behind Hunter Greene at #82 overall in their Top 100 prospect list.
A plus defensive grade at the most important position on the diamond and the kind of offensive potential that could also be above-average? One who will likely start the 2020 season with AA Chattanooga with a solid shot to be big league ready in 2021 - the year after current shortstop Freddy Galvis is set to reach free agency? Not only would that assuage the lack of landing a superstar shortstop via blockbuster deal this winter, it would also help ease the pain of losing potential shortstop-of-the-future Jeter Downs in last winter’s blockbuster, a player who has also seen his stock rise significantly in that time.
No, the Reds didn’t land Lindor this winter, nor Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, or Seager. Yes, they let Jose Peraza simply walk, and didn’t pursue any sort of long-term pact with Jose Iglesias. They’re committed to rolling with Galvis, for now, with the thin lines of Alex Blandino, Blake Trahan, Rodriguez, or even Kyle Farmer as their only backups. But perhaps they’ve got someone already around who looks poised to take command of the position as soon as next year, a player who they’ve already long invested ample time and money into who could well emerge as the next great Cincinnati shortstop.
Yesterday certainly made it worth dreaming about.