SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Reds prospect Jose Israel Garcia signed for millions of dollars without a ton of fanfare two years ago.
He had his share of tryouts for teams at the time like most international prospects, but most clubs pigeonholed him as a defense-first second baseman with a light bat. It didn’t help that fellow Cuban and former teammate Luis Robert was on the market at the same time, and the majority of international scouts spent their time evaluating the future White Sox top prospect.
But the Reds saw something special when every other team was looking the other way. They loved his athleticism and envisioned him as an everyday shortstop one day.
Those skills were on display in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday night with his Glendale Desert Dogs beating the Salt River Rafters, 5-4. Garcia, hitting second for the Desert Dogs, finished 0-for-3, but he still scored and drove in a run. He hit the ball hard, including a ground ball that was clocked at 108 mph in the second inning that scored Glendale’s fifth run.
“I’m here to give it my all and do everything I can to get better,” Garcia, the club’s No. 9 prospect, said in Spanish. “I know I have to work and I’m ready to work on all parts of my game.”
The Reds signed Garcia for $5 million in June of 2017, a few weeks after the White Sox signed Robert. His signing was also overshadowed by other Cuban acquisitions in his own organization. The Reds had previously signed Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, the club’s No. 18 prospect, for $7 million and right-handed pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez, the No. 11 prospect, during the same signing 2016-17 period.
Rodriguez spent most of last season at Double-A Chattanooga and played 23 games for Triple-A Louisville, while Gutierrez pitched 137 innings at Triple-A.
As for Garcia, he skipped Rookie League and started his professional career in the United States in the Midwest League with Dayton after a stop in the Dominican Summer League last year. He hit .280 with eight home runs and 55 RBIs in 104 games for the Class A Advanced Daytona Tortugas in 2019.
“I feel like toward the end of the seasons I made adjustments,” Garcia said. “I’m happy with what I was able to do, and God willing, I will keep getting better.”
So far, Garcia is off to a slow start at the plate in Fall League play with three hits and four strikeouts in four games, a span of 16 at-bats. Glendale manager Luis Bolivar, who managed Garcia at Dayton, remains optimistic.
“As an organization, we hope he gets more consistency at the plate,” Bolivar said. “He’s going to see better pitches than he did at high-A this past season … We hope that he will be ready to go at high levels.”
Garcia had plenty of help from his Desert Dogs teammates Thursday. Brewers outfielder Pablo Abreu led off the game with a single and Garcia followed with a walk. Both scored on a double by White Sox No. 13 prospect Gavin Sheets. Sheets eventually scored on passed ball to push the Desert Dogs ahead, 3-0.
In the second, Dodgers No. 15 prospect Omar Estevez drove in the fourth run. One out later, Jake Gatewood scored on Garcia’s sharp ground ball to extend the lead to 5-0.
The Rafters scored three runs in the fifth inning, two on a home run by Rockies catching prospect Brian Serven to make the score, 5-3. Rays No. 11 prospect Josh Lowe cut Glendale’s lead to one run with an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth.
With the victory, Glendale’s record improved to 3-4.
“We started slow, but the team started getting better as the season is going on and that’s what we expected,” Bolivar said. “We will see results at the end of the year.”