ST. PETERSBURG -- Adolis García knew immediately. He stopped and stared as the ball left his bat, watching it sail a Statcast-projected 416 feet into the left-field stands at Tropicana Field. He then looked toward the Rangers’ dugout, tossed his bat and banged his chest before rounding the bases.
The bat was still bouncing by the on-deck circle as García made his way down the first-base line.
Leading off the top of the fourth inning of the Rangers’ 7-1 win over the Rays on Wednesday, which clinched the American League Wild Card Series, García’s solo homer broke a 0-0 tie and smashed open the floodgates for Texas’ offensive barrage to complete a dismantling of a 99-win Tampa Bay team.
“I thought that really got us going,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Early on, we had some good at-bats, had some hard outs, and couldn't quite get the runners in. It just seemed like that was the one that really got us going there, and adding three more runs there ... It takes something like that to get the offense going, and he did that today for us.”
It has become a common sight in Texas over the past three years -- the highlight-worthy plays in the outfield and towering homers off García’s bat. And now, the two-time AL All-Star’s bat flips and flexes finally have a chance to shine in the postseason.
“El Bombi, man,” said first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. “El Bombi is special. It's not really a surprise to anybody in the house. We get to see the show every day playing with him, and see how hard he works and him perfecting his craft over and over. Through the ups and downs or the strikeouts or misses, we know there's going to be barrels and excitement.”
And Bochy knew how important García would be for this team’s success from the beginning.
There was a lot that impressed Bochy about García when he was named the Rangers’ manager in November 2022. But in a lineup with Silver Slugger Award winners Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Lowe, it’s easy to see why García -- despite his power -- might get lost in the sauce.
Rangers offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker had similar thoughts when he joined the club following the 2021 season. Even though García was a quality big leaguer and an All-Star before Ecker’s arrival, Ecker knew there was untapped potential.
“The first thing that popped in my head when I watched Adolis was kind of a foundational question of, ‘What could be possible for this guy?’” Ecker recalled. “You saw the physical ability to impact the baseball, the ability to get a lot of people to follow him as a special human. So that foundational question -- I think about everybody but in particular Adolis -- was about game planning a little bit better, helping him move better. It's cool to see the year he’s having.”
The player that García has become is not what was entirely expected of him. He still has the power and the hit tool -- he hit 39 homers with 107 RBIs this season. That much is obvious, but he’s so much more now.
Conventional baseball wisdom states that it’s hard -- almost impossible -- to teach control of the strike zone. Some guys just have better eyes than others. Ecker personally doesn’t subscribe to whatever conventional baseball wisdom says.
So Ecker -- along with fellow hitting coaches Tim Hyers and Seth Conner -- have worked with García to flip that idea on its head.
“We don't really care what other people think about that stuff,” Ecker said. “We think everything is coachable, everything is trainable. So we're never gonna say we don't believe in that. He's learned how to simplify his game planning based on certain pitchers and, to his credit, he worked in the offseason on that. We're never going to ask a player to do something that they're not willing to train, so it's just really credit to him for wanting to take his game as a hitter to a whole ‘nother level.”
It’s not completely smooth sailing, and García still expands the zone at times. And while 175 strikeouts in the regular season isn’t ideal, it's still fewer than he had in 2021 (194) and ‘22 (183). Mostly, it’s clear García has become a more complete player this year.
In his first two years with the Rangers, García ranked in the bottom 20 percent of the Majors in both walk and strikeout rate. This year, his walk rate has skyrocketed to the 74th percentile. His chase rate was in the ninth percentile in 2022. Now it sits just below league average in the 41st percentile.
García logged a career high in walks this year with 65 -- 25 more than in 2022 in eight fewer games -- and posted a career-high on-base percentage of .328.
He has done this while maintaining his power, setting career highs in home runs and RBIs and making even more consistent contact than before.
“I think it's fair to say that it has its challenges,” Ecker explained. “But we didn't start off thinking it was gonna be easy. We started off by saying, ‘What's the next step for Adolis García?’ When the league prepares for Adolis García in 2020, 2021, they say, ‘He has a lot of power, but throw a breaking ball in the zone and try to get him to chase, he'll chase a lot, he won't walk.’
“It was about challenging Adolis to take his game as a player in the big leagues to a whole different level.”
García readily admitted that it wasn’t exactly easy to change up the game plan like he has, but it’s something he dedicated himself to in the offseason and in Spring Training. He found a way to control the strike zone and manage his swing decisions through consistent repetition and focus.
“It's just something new in my game plan and how I am, how I play,” García said. “Everything is different, so I have to pay more attention to everything in the game -- the pitchers, how they work, their walk rate, all that stuff. That’s all helped me a little bit.”
When looking at the kind of player García has become, Ecker believes there is no real comparison, especially when you factor in his journey from Cuba to being designated for assignment and traded by the Cardinals, all the way to becoming a star with the Rangers.
Planty of late bloomers and underdogs have become superstars. But there are none quite like García and what he has meant to the Rangers in a short period of time.
Bochy -- a 68-year-old who could be considered an old-school manager -- believes that García plays the game with such passion and energy that it inspires everybody around him just by being there.
“He's been through a lot to get to Texas to get that opportunity,” Ecker added. “So I just think it's favorable for him that we're not dealing with a guy that's had everything handed to him. When we came, he had already had a pretty good year, but he went through a lot of different things. So I don't think there's anybody in the game that I can compare Adolis to.”
No matter what, even as the star he has become, García just wants to do everything he can to help the Rangers win and lead them to their first World Series title. He has the ability to become Major League Baseball’s next great postseason superstar.
And it’s easy to see his vision.
“They have to pitch to somebody,” García said, in English, with a smile.