Hunter Dozier. Matt Duffy. Nicky Lopez. Those three players served as the KC Royals amalgamation at third base to start this past season. That player combination was the least inspiring on the roster, with no imminent help at the position. That is until Maikel Garcia had something to say about it.
The KC Royals promoting Maikel Garcia was a huge risk, but it paid off.
The Royals promoted Garcia to The Show on May 2, his second stint in the majors including his 2022 debut. Garcia was not exactly electric in Triple-A Omaha to start the season, but he was still the best long-term option at third base. The only problem was that Garcia played shortstop, not third base. He only had 10 total games at third base in his minor-league career, all at Omaha this season. The Royals gambled big on the 23-year-old Garcia. Luckily, that gamble paid off big time.
He casually went on to have one of the best Royals rookie seasons ever. His 1.9 fWAR ranked 13th amongst all Royals rookies, higher than 2022 Vinnie Pasquantino, 2016 Whit Merrifield, and several other notable names. His defense buoyed that number, and for good reason. Garcia ranked in the 98th percentile for Outs Above Average (OAA) and in the 71st percentile for arm strength in the field.
His 11 Fielding Run Value ranked 20th in MLB, one above shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Those two formed a young, exciting duo on the infield's left side and is arguably the best in the American League. Garcia said that the transition was not as easy as the numbers showed.
“When I first started playing third base I [committed] a lot of errors because I didn’t move my feet and the ball was coming too hard at me,” Garcia said. “I know guys hit harder here than in the Minor Leagues, so I learned to wait for the ball, not come in.”
Garcia should know all about hard-hit baseballs, as he is one of the league's best in that area. He ranked in the 94th percentile for hard-hit rate, 87th percentile for average exit velocity, and 76th percentile for sweet spot rate. Garcia has great bat-to-ball skills, contributing to his .272/.323/.358 with four home runs and 50 RBI. He did not put many over the fence or behind the outfielders, but Garcia thrived as a leadoff bat with above-average speed on the basepaths.
The lack of power left a ton to be desired. Couple his 48% ground-ball rate with a 27.4% fly-ball rate, Garcia left plenty of production on the table. His barrel rate ranked in the 10th percentile, due to that terrible combination. It is a correctable issue, thankfully, but one that will limit Garcia's offensive ceiling until it is fixed.
How does the rookie's season grade out?
I have been rather bearish on Garcia's long-term fit with the Royals. I think that, if the opportunity arises, the team should capitalize on his trade value as a shortstop and flip him this winter or next year. But, I concede that my so-called problems with him are all linked to things that can be fixed. With some time in the weight room and more time with Royals coaches, Garcia will likely morph into a long-term Royal.
But, there is no denying his rookie season was stellar. I give him an A-, with his lack of pop at the plate as his biggest negative.