Jose Garcia enters 2020 as the Reds’ most interesting prospect — interesting in the sense that none of the major publications seem to agree on him. Baseball America has him 6th in the organization (he did not, however, receive a single vote by any of their prospect writers for the top-150 prospects in all of baseball), MLB Pipeline ranks him 9th, Doug Gray at Reds Minor Leagues ranks him 4th, and Baseball Prospectus ranks him 2nd.
Garcia was an international signee out of Cuba who the Reds signed for $5 million in 2017. He will turn 22 on April 5 and completed his second year in the Reds system in 2019, playing the full season in High-A Daytona as a shortstop. Garcia split time between shortstop and second base in 2018 with Jeter Downs in a full season at Low-A Dayton. He showed good defense at both spots in Dayton after primarily being a second baseman in Cuba, but his bat left some room for improvement with an 81 wRC+ and 21.7% strikeout rate. He had an awful 3.7% walk rate, a .294 wOBA, and a terrible .100 ISO — which measures extra-base hits per at-bat and has a league average around .140.
After sending Downs with Homer Bailey and Josiah Gray to the Dodgers in exchange for Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer, the Reds moved Garcia to High-A Daytona of the Florida State League (FSL) to start 2019 as a full-time shortstop. The FSL is a pitcher-friendly league, boasting a .242/.313/.353 (.666 OPS) slash line in 2019, which makes a lot of sense because, you know, Florida. Dermis Garcia, of the New York Yankees affiliate in Tampa, led the league with 17 home runs, one of only 16 players to reach double digits in the FSL.
But in the midst of this, Jose Garcia shined. He hit .280/.343/.436 with a 131 wRC+. He increased his walk rate to 5.5% while lowering his strikeout rate to 18.4% in a league where pitchers average 22.7% strikeout rate and 2.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Garcia also lead the league in doubles (37) and stole 15 bases while only being caught twice, a nice boost from his 13 steals on 22 attempts in Dayton.
Garcia decreased his GB% rate by four percentage points to 44%, which is right about league average. His line drives and fly balls each went up around two percentage points and his infield pop-ups dropped from a staggering 27.6% to a still-concerning 18.5%. League average is around 11%. He did start spraying the ball around better, decreasing his pull rate and increasing his hits to center as well as an ever-so-slight uptick in balls hit the other way. Garcia still played stellar defense, with Baseball America rating him as the best infield arm in the Reds’ system. They also rated his defensive ability and arm as his best attributes, both earning a 60 on their 80-grade scale.
It’s interesting to note the sudden rise of both Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs in prospect rankings after they were dealt to LA. Both now appear on multiple top-100 prospects in baseball lists. Gray is 84th in Baseball America’s rankings and 67th by MLB Pipeline. Downs rates at 86th and 44th, respectively, on those same lists while also appearing at number 14 and 8 on each site’s list of best shortstop prospects in baseball. Jose Garcia appears on none of these lists, which makes you wonder why Jeter Downs is rocketing up the prospect rankings while Garcia is being left behind.
The two players will always be connected in my mind after watching them as a double play tandem in Dayton for several games in 2018. Downs also had a breakout season in 2019 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga in the Dodgers system. He hit .269/.354/.507 in 107 games before getting called up to Double-A for 12 games where he hit a scorching .333/.429/.688 with five home runs, 14 runs scored, and 11 RBI in that limited sample. At High-A, Downs had a 134 wRC+, a .379 wOBA, a walk rate more than double that of Jose Garcia at 11.3%, and a 20.3% strikeout rate. Downs walked more than Garcia, but his OBP was only .011 higher and he had a higher K rate.
Don’t get me wrong: Jeter Downs had a fantastic year, and I think he’ll be a fine major-leaguer in the future. But the California League is a more hitter-friendly environment, with an average OPS of .719 compared to the Florida League’s .666. In all, Downs was .018/.025/.116 above his league’s average with a 134 wRC+, which helps show adjustments across leagues, eras, and ballparks, while Jose Garcia was .038/.030/.083 above his with a wRC+ of 131. Downs hit for more power but in a more hitter-friendly environment. Downs also has more questions about his defense, rating at 50 with an arm of 55 on Baseball America’s 80 scale. Downs seems more likely to be a second baseman long term than a shortstop.
So, if Downs and Garcia both outpaced their leagues at the plate and Garcia is far more reliable in the field, why is Jeter Downs the only one shooting up the prospect rankings? It seems to me that while Downs is good and deserves his rise up the ranks, Jose Garcia should be right there beside him.
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