GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On Tuesday vs. the Angels, Jose Garcia crushed a pair of solo home runs that easily cleared the fence in left-center field. Garcia also did a nice job at shortstop, which included going to the hole to make a backhanded stop for a groundout.
None of this was much of a surprise to one person, in particular. Hall of Fame shortstop and Reds great Barry Larkin -- an instructor in camp -- has been working with Garcia this spring, along with infield/first-base coach Freddie Benavides.
“The impressive thing is his work acumen, his attention to detail and maturity level for a 21-year-old kid," Larkin said. "Physically, he’s growing into a man. He’s going to continue to get stronger and, hopefully, hone his skill. What everyone is seeing is certainly what we expect from him. He’s a special player.”
Garcia, who turns 22 on April 5, was ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No. 9 prospect in 2019 and could move into the top 5 in '20, isn’t competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. In his first big-league camp, he’s had just two full seasons of Minor League experience, including last year at Class A Advanced Daytona.
That likely means Garcia could arrive to the big leagues in 2021 or ’22. But if he continues at the current pace, he could be a dynamic shortstop in the future.
“He’s a big-bodied guy, but is very agile,” Larkin said. “He’s got great feet. He’s got a lot of fast-twitch characteristics in his play. I hope he doesn’t continue to get so big. He definitely put on muscle since last year. I think as long as he keeps his agility, he’ll continue to be able to play shortstop.”
When the Reds landed Garcia out of Cuba near the end of the 2016-17 signing period for international players, they got him for just under $5 million. As he defected, he was idle from playing for about 10 months.
The organization decided to challenge Garcia and had him go directly to Class A Dayton in 2018, which meant skipping short-season Rookie ball. After he struggled at the plate during the first three months, it proved to be a good decision to push him as Garcia figured it out in the second half. He hit for average -- .265 over the final three months -- and showed some power, hitting five of his six homers of the season in that stretch.
“He’s really talented. It’s fun to have him in camp. I like to see him play while he’s here, give him that experience,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Whenever that time comes when he says he’s ready, I think this experience, being in Major League camp will be part of that process for him. … You can look at him out on the field and see pretty quickly that he’s a very talented player.”
For Daytona last season, Garcia batted .280/.343/.436 with eight homers and 55 RBIs. That included his .378 average with three homers in August, before he earned an invitation to the Arizona Fall League. Speaking through translator Jorge Merlos, Garcia explained how he was able to access his power.
“I found that energy and power I was looking for last year,” Garcia said. “I worked on the separation of my hands. That gave me more control of the bat. I really worked on that.”
Although listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Garcia had bulked up to 200 pounds over last season. But a trip home to Cuba at the start of his offseason proved problematic physically.
Garcia was bitten by a mosquito and contracted Dengue fever, which WebMD.com notes is related to the viruses that cause the West Nile infection and yellow fever. The Dengue fever caused Garcia to lose 20 pounds.
“Thank God, I’ve been able to recuperate and over the offseason, I was able to get that weight back,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t worried about it. I knew it was just something that would pass by. But I also knew I’d have to work really hard to get back into shape for Spring Training.”
Feeling fit and healthy, Garcia is enjoying himself at camp and eating up the opportunity to show what he can do.
“I feel really comfortable being here,” Garcia said. “The Major League players have really helped me a lot while I’m here. I’m working hard each day to get up to that level.”
As Larkin works with Garcia, he would like to see him improve his overall consistency in the field and at the plate. He’s already got the tools to be successful -- good speed, a big arm, range and the ability to hit to all fields.
“He’s got to find out who he is defensively and offensively,” Larkin said. “It happens through experience and going out there and trying new things so you can fail enough that you know, ‘OK, this is my approach.’ He’s two years removed from Cuba and spent some time where he didn’t play for a while. Those are things he’ll have to work through himself. When he does that, he’ll be ready. He has a really mature approach for such a young kid.”