Entering the 2023 season, the Royals have been clear about what they wanted to learn: Which players can they count on moving forward, and what moves do they need to make to make this team better?
As we near the end of August, have the Royals found their third baseman and leadoff hitter in Maikel Garcia?
Having Garcia -- despite dealing with upper body discomfort this weekend in Chicago -- and emerging superstar Bobby Witt Jr. atop the Royals’ lineup has fueled the offensive surge we’ve seen in the second half, not to mention they’ve helped anchor the infield at third base and shortstop, respectively. Garcia’s 18-game hitting streak that started July 26 and ended Thursday was the longest active run in the Majors at that point, the longest ever by a Royals rookie and was the longest by any Royal since Whit Merrifield’s franchise-record 31-game streak in 2018.
“From an offseason perspective, we feel like our left side of the infield is secure,” general manager J.J. Picollo said last week. “We don’t need to worry that much about the left side infield, maybe add some depth. … But the shortstop, third base position, we’re not overly concerned with right now.”
Since joining Kansas City at the beginning of May, Garcia is hitting .284 with a .707 OPS this season, with a 92 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR. After a month of getting his feet wet again at the Major League level, Garcia’s .284 average ranks 31st among all position players in the Majors, and his 1.5 fWAR is tied for 24th since the beginning of June.
“The thing about Maikel that’s always impressed me is just how he gets his barrel on the plane of the pitch early and stays on it really, really long,” hitting coach Alec Zumwalt said. “That just creates so many contact points. It’s what good hitters do. When the timing’s not perfect, you’ve got to have room for error.”
Garcia, 23, has turned into a reliable leadoff hitter for the Royals, which isn’t surprising because he’s used to hitting leadoff from his Minor League career -- but it’s important for the Royals, who did not have a true leadoff hitter on their roster when this season started.
With a contact-oriented approach and good speed, Garcia fits the mold of a leadoff hitter – and he’s slashing .284/.328/.379 batting first this season.
“I just try to get on base for Bobby and [Michael] Massey and Salvy [Salvador Perez],” Garcia said. “Or get on base to drive in runners who are at the bottom of the lineup. That’s all I think about. Hitting leadoff, it’s like you are a leader for the team. If you don’t get on base, the team can’t score runs right away. If you’re on base, we can get to the pitcher earlier. I like that spot.”
There are still improvements to be made; Garcia hasn't walked much this year with a 6.8% walk rate, and he has less-than-average big league power with .096 ISO. The Royals don’t need him to hit 20 homers a year, of course, but given his age and Minor League numbers, there’s reason to believe both facets could increase with time.
“I think I’ll get stronger,” Garcia said. “I won’t be afraid to pull it. But I should stick to my strengths and keep making small adjustments to get better. I just try to see the ball and make good contact. Opposite field has always been my spot.”
Garcia has a quiet confidence and competitiveness that fits into the Royals’ clubhouse and dugout well. As he’s matured, he’s played himself into a spot on this young core.
“I think what stands out is [Garcia’s] competitiveness of the at-bats,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “He gets very frustrated with himself when he gives one away. He really learns from his ‘mistakes’ that he makes.”