Garcia called up to Cubs amid talk of 'changes'

Maples optioned; Epstein hints at more moves if club doesn't improve

July 4th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs selected the contract of hot-hitting Minor Leaguer Robel Garcia on Wednesday, looking for an offensive spark after some recent struggles at the plate. But they’ve made it clear that he’s not expected to do it alone, and he may not be the only move if the Cubs continue to struggle.

Garcia has quickly become in Chicago what one may describe as a “cult prospect hero.” The trilingual infielder signed with the Indians in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic and spent the next four seasons without rising above Class A ball. After being released before the start of the 2014 season, he moved to Italy and played for UnipolSai Bologna of the Italian Baseball League for five seasons.

Based on what a Cubs scout saw in a 2009 game in Arizona, between the Reds’ instructional league team and Team Italy, Garcia had clearly improved his game while abroad. After the Cubs signed him in October 2018, they didn’t even bother to send him back to Class A. He raked at Double-A Tennessee, then raked some more at Triple-A Iowa, posting a combined line of .285/.364/.594 with 21 homers in 72 games.

“It’s a great story, and I’m eager to find out more about him, but I’ve heard he’s a wonderful young man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “… And now, all of a sudden, he’s turned into this really good hitter from both sides of the plate.”

It will be at least another game before his power potential is shown. Garcia recorded his first Major League at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Pirates, but he struck out swinging on four pitches.

The exciting announcement of Garcia's recall for many Cubs fans, which came from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in a conversation on WSCR-AM 670, was also surrounded by talk of potential shakeups to the big league roster. Epstein called the recent stretch “unacceptable,” and it appears as if Garcia’s callup could be a chance as well as a warning.

“If this stretch of play continues,” Epstein said, “there certainly will be a ton of changes in order.”

Over the past 30 games, the Cubs have posted a .317 Weighted On-Base Average, the lowest mark of any team in a playoff position entering Wednesday's action outside of the Rays (.302). They’ve especially had trouble knocking in runners in scoring position, hitting .250 in those situations since the beginning of June (22nd in MLB).

Those issues, along with baserunning and starting pitching depth concerns, have hurt the Cubs as they’ve failed to win their past seven series, including their four-game set with the Pirates this week.

“It obviously can’t continue, “ Epstein said. “It’s unacceptable."

And Maddon thinks the bulk of that improvement has to come from the everyday guys, not from any callup in particular.

“The blood of the work has got to come from the group that’s already here and that’s here for a reason, that have great backs of baseball cards,” Maddon said. “These are the guys that we’ve got to get them playing to their capabilities.”

Worth noting
• The Cubs optioned Dillon Maples to Triple-A in a corresponding move for Garcia. Maples threw 2 1/3 innings over three appearances since his recall on June 29, allowing five runs over that span.

• Carlos Gonzalez, whom the Cubs designated for assignment on Friday, cleared waivers and was granted free agency. Gonzalez hit .175/.306/.300 in 40 at-bats for Chicago after signing as a free agent on June 1.

• Allen Webster has begun a rehab assignment in the Arizona League. The right-handed reliever was transferred to the 60-day injured list on June 7 with radial nerve inflammation in his pitching arm after posting a 4.91 ERA in 12 appearances. He was originally placed on the 10-day IL on May 11.