KANSAS CITY -- During Spring Training last year, Maikel Garcia was the prospect everyone was asking about, inquiring if he’d make the team and where he’d play if he did.
The Royals rolled with their veterans immediately out of camp, but that changed about a month into the season when they promoted Garcia to fill a need at third base – and the 23-year-old never looked back.
Garcia showed he’s part of the core now, so different questions will surround him and the position this spring. Let’s get into some of it now, as our around-the-horn series continues with third base.
Projected starter: Garcia
Garcia didn’t get off to the best start in Triple-A Omaha, but the Royals promoted him anyway for his second stint in the Majors following his 2022 debut -- he put together a solid rookie campaign with a 1.9 fWAR, .272 batting average and .323 on-base percentage. Garcia fit well in the leadoff spot because of his contact rate (82%), plate discipline and above-average speed on the basepaths.
And despite playing just 10 games at third base before he was promoted, Garcia shined at the hot corner. He had a 1.6 utility zone rating, and his 13 Outs Above Average ranked first among American League third basemen, with his arm strength in the 71st percentile.
The Royals slid Garcia over to shortstop if Bobby Witt Jr. needed a day off, and Garcia also began to get practice reps in center field and at second base to increase his versatility. He’s athletic enough that the Royals feel confident in his ability to move around the field if needed.
All that adds up to Garcia being a big piece of the Royals’ future. He hit the ground running his rookie year, and now he’s someone the Royals can pair with Witt and others to build around.
Oh, and in winter ball this offseason? Garcia has a 1.118 OPS across 29 games.
Backup options: Nick Loftin, Garrett Hampson
As stated before in this series, the Royals will utilize their versatile bench to rotate players around the field and put together the best lineup and defense for that night. Loftin and Hampson can both handle the hot corner despite not having as much experience with it as their other positions. Both have strong arms capable of filling in when needed.
As for depth in Triple-A right now, the Royals will likely have Mike Brosseau, who they signed to a Minor League deal with an invite to camp this offseason, playing corner infield, as well as Cam Devanney, one of the players they got in the Taylor Clarke trade with the Brewers. Devanney can play all over the infield, and he logged eight games at third for Triple-A Nashville last season.
Question to answer: Could the Royals make an upgrade?
Garcia plays great defense and he fits the Royals’ offensive style. But he doesn’t profile as a true third baseman from a power perspective. In fact, there was a lot to be desired from him in that department; despite hitting the ball hard, Garcia doesn’t get it in the air much, and his leaner frame doesn’t project much power.
The Royals got their heavy lifting done this offseason before Christmas and checked all their boxes with free agent signings, especially in the pitching department. Offensively, they added Hampson as a utility man and outfielder Hunter Renfroe to lengthen the lineup. The indication is that the team is pretty much done with the big additions.
But there are still plenty of unsigned free agents, and the longer they wait to sign, the more likely it is the Royals could swoop in and bring in another bat.
There is no question Garcia is a part of the Royals’ core. But given his versatility, third base is an area where the Royals could easily open up and upgrade.
Who else is in the Pipeline?
At some point in 2024, No. 2 prospect Cayden Wallace will likely jump to Triple-A and be a step away from the Majors, and the Royals will have to create a path for him in Kansas City. That’s still a year or two off, though, but nevertheless exciting because of his toolset. The Royals’ second-round pick in 2022 out of Arkansas, Wallace reached Double-A Northwest Arkansas last year and finished the season with an overall .745 OPS with 13 homers, 27 doubles and 84 RBIs.
Strong and stable, Wallace consistently makes quality contact and is a gap-to-gap hitter -- but with raw power he could unlock with more experience. Defensively, he’s a true third baseman with a strong and accurate arm. The Royals have been searching for a regular third baseman for several years. Wallace projects to be one and could anchor the left side of the infield with Witt.
Farther off, No. 10 prospect Austin Charles manned third base at Single-A Columbia last season. The 6-foot-4 20-year-old still has a long way to go to tap into his offensive and defensive potential, but that potential is exciting enough to keep an eye on him as he climbs the ranks.