MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Prime scenario: Garcia raking, Moncada waiting

Prime scenario: Garcia raking, Moncada waiting

CHICAGO -- When will Yoan Moncada take his place in the White Sox lineup?

That's the question of the day -- as well as the week, the month and the year -- for the South Siders. You understand why after taking one look at Moncada's slash line with Triple-A Charlotte: .342/.414/.538.

Moncada is doing it all -- hitting for average, hitting for power and stealing bases. But here's the reality: He is probably still at least a month away, and there's no guarantee he'll be in Chicago before September.

In the meantime, fans can focus their attention on Avisail Garcia, who got off to a torrid start in his age-26 season and continues to deliver a breakout performance.

"He's just feeling good, feeling confident,'' manager Rick Renteria said. "I like the way he's playing the game of baseball.''

More than Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, even more than Tim Anderson, it's Garcia's at-bats that will matter the most for the White Sox until Moncada arrives. He's the one player who lives on the dividing line between the rebuilding team's past and its future.

Garcia's single plates two

Garcia was a major acquisition when the Sox landed him in a three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston in 2013. He whetted appetites with a strong finish to that season before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder diving for a ball in the eighth game of the '14 season, and he had been mainly a disappointment since returning from surgery.

A guy once called "Mini Miggy" for his similarities to Miguel Cabrera, Garcia delivered a .718 OPS in 2014, then .675 in '15 and .692 in '16. He was essentially a replacement-level player, and some wondered if the White Sox might non-tender him last offseason.

They didn't -- perhaps because they didn't have Minor League outfielders pushing for spots -- and here's Garcia late in the sixth week of the 2017 season, with a .911 OPS and on pace for a 5.5 WAR. He entered Thursday fifth in the American League with a .336 batting average and tied for seventh in RBIs with 24 (a near trick when your team is 14th in scoring).

As has been chronicled, Garcia went to work in the offseason, losing 15-20 pounds to regain some quickness and energy. But he has also improved his approach at the plate, learning how to hit the ball hard to his pull side (three of his five home runs have been down the left-field line) -- he'd been most dangerous going the other way on balls he could extend to reach -- and showing a better understanding of the strike zone.

Garcia also seems less tentative at the plate. While he still swings at 39.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (a career low, but barely) he is taking far fewer called strikes. Garcia is swinging at 82.9 percent of pitches in the strike zone, which shows he's getting the pitch recognition that hitting coaches constantly stress.

Garcia actually leads Major League qualifiers in that percentage, which FanGraphs calls Z-swing percentage. Among the other guys who are in the top 10: Freddie Freeman (81.8), Adam Jones (79.8), Joey Votto (77.0) and Nolan Arenado (76.1).

That's pretty good company to be keeping.

Todd Steverson, who is in his fourth season working with Garcia, credits Garcia's breakout performance to the universal truth of hitting: You're better when you swing at strikes and take balls. It's the first thing coaches mention when a hitter struggles.

So why is that message getting through now when Garcia has been hearing it for years?

"Sometimes you have to tell your children, 'Don't do, don't do, don't do,' or 'Do this, do this, do this,' " Steverson said. "It becomes a choice. It's my job to keep on him about that, and it's his job to apply it. It's not like he's never going to swing at bad pitches, but the more you can see the results from good choices, the more you're likely to make them in the future.''

What's the key for Garcia to sustain his early success?

"Same thing,'' Steverson said. "There were a couple of indiscretions lately, and he knows it. Pitchers are starting to push it a little further out of the zone, to test him, and it's his job to stay disciplined. That's where we are.''

When Renteria praises Garcia, he's not just talking about his hitting. He believes Garcia has also raised his game in right field. He certainly had room for improvement after accumulating minus-23 Defensive Runs Saved over his career.

This season, Garcia is at 0 DRS, which ranks 14th among 22 qualifiers in right field. He climbs to 10th when the standard is UZR/150. Put it all together and he's Major League average, which is really pretty good.

"Avi's been playing a very good outfield,'' Renteria said. "He's got one of the better arms in the league, I think. … When Avi starts going, he runs pretty well. I think people underestimate his foot speed. He's been able to make a lot of nice plays for us.''

At some point soon, general manager Rick Hahn will have a decision to make on Garcia -- does he trust him enough to try to work out a three- or four-year contract? If he doesn't, he is likely to shop him at midseason, an intriguing possibility if Garcia is named to the All-Star team.

As for Moncada, don't overlook those 31 days' service time he received with the Red Sox last year. That means he probably can't be promoted before July if the White Sox want to avoid any threat of him gaining Super Two status for arbitration.

There's no incentive for the White Sox to be aggressive in bringing Moncada to Guaranteed Rate Field, even if fans are anxious to see him playing alongside Anderson.

Moncada has his own issues -- making more contact, being more consistent in the field -- to work on. The better grasp he has of the basics when he arrives, the less chance he goes through extended struggles on the big stage. Until Moncada is promoted, give Garcia the benefit of the doubt and watch him like he's the next big thing. He might surprise all of us.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.