The Cincinnati Reds lost to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday afternoon, 7-3. The team only had five hits, and only three of them came from players that started the game. But it was shortstop prospect Jose Garcia that made the first televised Reds game of the spring a fun show to watch. The 21-year-old hit two home runs and also made two nice plays in the field before exiting the game in the 7th inning.
If you read my work over at RedsMinorLeagues.com then you are probably familiar with Jose Garcia, rated on my list as the Cincinnati Reds #4 prospect after the 2019 season. You can read a full report on his season last year, and a scouting report right here.
Jose Garcia’s Background
Born in Cuba, Jose Garcia was playing in the Cuban National Series a teenager, getting into 17 games with Industriales at 18-years-old and hitting .306/.359/.361. He played a bit of everywhere in those 17 games, getting action at shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and center field.
Garcia would defect from the country following that season and go through the process of becoming eligible to sign with a Major League Baseball team. He became eligible late in the 2016-2017 international signing period. The Reds seemed to be going all-in that year as it was the last year that teams were allowed to just spend as much money as they wanted to on a player in this arena as long as they were willing to face the penalties for doing so. Earlier in the period the team had signed two other Cubans – right-handed pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez and shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez.
The signing period goes every year from July 2nd through June 15th. Between that time there is an inactive period of a few weeks. The Reds came to an agreement with Garcia a week before the signing period ended, signing him on June 8th of 2017. He signed a bonus of $5,000,000 – which under the rules at the time, also meant that Cincinnati had to pay a penalty to Major League Baseball of $5,000,000. So while Garcia himself only got $5,000,000 – it cost the organization $10,000,000 to acquire him.
Playing in the Minor Leagues
Unlike players that sign out of America, when plays sign out of other countries they are required to get a work visa in order to play in the US. For some players it takes less time than others in order to get that approved. Historically speaking it has taken Cuban players longer to get through this process – which isn’t surprising given what they had to do in order to become eligible to sign. That led to Garcia not playing in 2017 in official games. He did, however, participate in instructional league in the Dominican Republic at the Reds complex that year.
In 2018 he was stateside and in spring training with the Reds. In just under a week out in Goodyear I had a chance to see Jose Garcia play several times on the backfields, and every day I walked away thinking that he was the best player on the field in which he was playing. He was still just 19-years-old (he would turn 20 in April) and he was athletic, showed good defensive skills, and everything he was hitting was hard. And he seemed to have a solid idea of the strikezone at the time, too.
Heading into the spring the Reds weren’t sure whether or not they were going to send him to Dayton or if they were going to keep him back in extended spring training. But his spring performance forced the issue. Once he got to Dayton, though, things were a bit different than they had been in Goodyear. He got out to a slow start at the plate – and while he did improve each month of the season – at the plate he struggled overall. In 517 plate appearances he hit just .245/.290/.344. The numbers were not good not matter how you sliced them. Following the year, here’s a bit of what I wrote about his bat after watching him play nearly every day both in person and via broadcasts of games:
When you watch Jose Garcia play, he looks like a guy who would have had better offensive numbers than he showed in 2018. The swing is good, the bat speed is there, the power could be there. But he struggles to identify pitches that aren’t the fastball and it doesn’t let those aspects play right now. He’s going to need to improve here in order to get more out of his bat.
Following the season he had shoulder surgery. Garcia didn’t start playing in 2019 until late April. That’s when he joined the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League. While he missed the start of the year, he made up for it quickly. The shortstop made big strides at the plate in the pitcher friendly league – hitting .280/.343/.436 last season while improving in just about every aspect. He also stole 15 bases in 17 attempts.
The 2019 season looked a lot more like the scouting report, particularly at the plate, than the 2018 does. As the offseason prospect rankings started coming out, several of the national publications left Garcia off of their Top 100 lists – a befuddling situation to me. But with the lists that came out a bit later in the offseason, the Reds top shortstop prospect found himself on both the Fangraphs Top 100 Prospect list (#82) as well as the Top 100 list at The Athletic by Keith Law (#93).