Storied lineage just the beginning of Garcia's path

March 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers' Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- comes from a baseball family. His cousins, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Alcides Escobar, have MVP awards and World Series titles to their names.

There’s no doubt that Garcia is proud of that lineage. But he wants you to know who he is -- not just who his cousins are.

I am who I am. I do what I do.

Garcia has those two phrases printed on a T-shirt given to him by his agent. He also has them written on his cleats this year, a reminder not to be anyone else but himself when he shows up to the ballpark every day.

“All my career, everybody always compared me with my cousins,” Garcia said. “Acuña, Esky. But I want people to know about Maikel Garcia. I want them to know me as Maikel.”

Garcia, a former Royals top prospect, introduced himself last year as a rookie, when he hit .272 and settled into the team’s leadoff-hitter role. He led American League third basemen with 13 Outs Above Average after just 10 games at the hot corner following his 2023 season debut in Kansas City.

Now, he’s looking forward to tackling his second full season head on, saying in Spring Training that it was “looking like a good one.”

He couldn’t have gotten off to a better start when he stepped to the plate Thursday as the Royals’ first batter of the 2024 season -- and crushed a hanging breaking ball from Pablo Lopez 398 feet over the left-field fence for a home run. Garcia followed that up with his second homer on Sunday, going back-to-back with Kyle Isbel as part of the Royals' offensive outburst against the Twins. This one was a two-strike, 422-foot shot on an inside fastball from Minnesota starter Bailey Ober.

“Watching Maikel the last few days of Spring Training, the exhibition game, batting practice during the workout, you could tell he was ready for the season,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “He was getting bored of Spring Training. He plays at such a competitive level all winter in a super competitive Venezuelan League, and I think he revels in the fact that he was going to be the first hitter. By no means was he going up there to try to hit home runs. He got a hanging breaking ball and put a good swing on it.

“But the competitive environment is what he thrives on. It’s going to be exciting to watch him.”

Garcia agrees. After a full 2023 season and a winter of baseball in Venezuela, he was ready. He loves hitting leadoff, which he's done most of his career. He also enjoys hitting in front of Bobby Witt Jr., and Witt appreciates hitting behind Garcia, calling him “the definition of a tone-setter.”

Garcia put together a solid 2023 season, slashing .272/.323/.358. He made a name for himself in the Royals’ Minor League system because of his contact rate and strike-zone awareness, but last year he posted a 22.8% strikeout rate and just 7.4% walk rate. The challenge will be to limit those strikeouts and get on base more as a leadoff hitter.

“Last year, I think he got into a little bit of a rut, expanding the zone,” Quatraro said. “It’s different when you play every day in the big leagues. But I think he’s up to that challenge.”

Garcia hits the ball hard, averaging a 91.8 mph exit velocity last year, but so many of those hard hits were on the ground in 2023. Evaluators believe Garcia has more power in him, which will show as he gets stronger and matures. He won’t be considered -- nor does he consider himself -- a power hitter, but he’s learning to catch the ball out in front of the zone, which naturally leads to more loft.

Playing every day in Venezuela this winter allowed Garcia to learn the little things that can help his game. Hitting .424/.543/.576 across 99 at-bats didn’t hurt his confidence, either.

“When I started playing, I started hitting the ball in the front, and it was hit harder and better,” Garcia said. “Playing every day, you learn things. I always have a lot of fun there, and I’m looking forward to bringing that energy to Kansas City this year.”

Last year solidified Garcia’s place as part of the Royals’ core. His name was brought up often by team officials when they talked to free agents about the foundation already in place in Kansas City -- along with Witt, Vinnie Pasquantino, Cole Ragans and others.

Garcia wants to let the rest of the baseball world know his name, too.

“Maikel has a fearlessness on the field,” general manager J.J. Picollo said “… We’ve got a lot of belief in Maikel being better than just an average player. We think he can do some great things in this game and be a name that people around baseball recognize.”