White Sox reshaping began with Avisail deal
Acquisition of right fielder in '13 signaled club's desire to get young, impact players
CHICAGO -- When Jose Abreu picked the White Sox over other teams pursuing the free agent from Cuba during the 2013 offseason and quickly proved he could be a frontline Major League player early in the 2014 season, the White Sox reshaping program moved into high gear.
That perception concerning the South Siders seems to be somewhat prevalent but not entirely accurate.
One can actually trace back to the three-team deal with the Tigers and Red Sox bringing Avisail Garcia and hard-throwing Minor League reliever Francellis Montas among a group of four back to the White Sox at the 2013 non-waiver Trade Deadline for the first true impact move of the Rick Hahn era as general manager.
A serious left shoulder injury suffered early in 2014 has prevented a true look at the White Sox right fielder to date, but the team's focus had officially changed.
"This guy is going to be one of the future stars in the league," said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams of Garcia during a Winter Meetings appearance on MLB Network. "Rick and I set out to remake the club a couple of years ago and we knew we were going to take it on the chin. But we wanted to get young, impact players. It started with the [Jake] Peavy deal to get Avi Garcia."
"The upside is tremendous," Hahn told MLB.com of Garcia during a recent interview. "There is a reason this guy was targeted a couple of years back when we acquired him. We are still very bullish on his potential."
Garcia, 23, finished 5-for-11 in the 2012 American League Championship Series for the victorious Tigers as a rookie who had made just 51 plate appearances during the regular season. He appeared in the World Series against the Giants that season before hitting .304 with five homers and 21 RBIs after coming over to the White Sox in 2013.
After a 4-for-24 start to the '14 campaign, his first as an everyday player, Garcia seemed to shake off the doldrums on April 8 in Colorado, with two of his four hits on the night clearing the fences. Then, his season looked to have come to a premature close on April 9 after Garcia's headfirst dive while trying to make the catch on a DJ LeMahieu hit to right resulted in a torn labrum and an avulsion fracture in his left shoulder.
To the credit of Garcia's intense daily work, he was able to return from what had looked like a season-ending injury on Aug. 16. He picked up 156 plate appearances before the season's finish, and then added another 125 at-bats during Venezuelan Winter League action. Garcia finished with a .312 average, five homers, 22 RBIs, a .366 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage for Tigres de Aragua.
"Healthy, no restrictions, played well, started a little bit slowly and then picked it up a little bit," said Hahn of the winter ball stint for Garcia, who started 2-for-18. "Everything has been positive defensively, offensively, it has been good. When he originally got hurt, our thought was that there was a chance he was going to be able to play this winter, which we thought was going to be a positive to see some living pitching and get his legs back under him.
"Obviously when he was able to recover as quickly as he did and come back and get those at-bats in Chicago, that was great. It's a great benefit to him going forward. We still wanted to find a way to get him extra reps. Grabbing these extra 100 ABs in winter ball we think was beneficial."
There's no ironclad prediction as to what Garcia can become. He has the tools to be a 25-homer, .300 hitter with 15-plus stolen bases, but people forget that his development remains in its early stages.
"Is it all going to come together right in 2015? Probably not," Hahn said. "Simply because he's a young kid still developing and getting established at who he is at the big league level.
"His development is still a work in progress. He has responded to a lot of what [White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson] was trying to impart to him. He just didn't have the opportunity or the repetitions to show that on the field. So hopefully with these added at-bats in winter ball, he was able to execute more of what we are looking for from him. We'll head into Spring Training able to hit the ground running."
Adding Melky Cabrera -- who has agreed to a deal, according to a source -- and Adam LaRoche -- who signed a two-year deal -- presents accomplished veteran complements to young hitters such as Garcia and Abreu.
But the trade with Garcia as the centerpiece back on July 30, 2013, initially pointed the White Sox in the direction to be able to add these key components for contention going into the 2015 season as part of the two-year reshaping process. Only Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo and Conor Gillaspie remain with the team from the lineup on the day of that trade, a team in a far better place than it was 18 months ago.