Overreaction or reality: Keller's, Cuas', Garcia's springs so far
Overreaction or reality: Maikel Garcia is ready.
Infielder Maikel Garcia is one of the sexiest picks to make the Royals' Opening Day roster, and rightfully so. Through March 12, Garcia has a .412 batting average, seven hits, and four RBIs. The spring training stats look good for Garcia, but he is not ready for a full-time role in the MLB.
It is not Garcia's bat that is lacking, as he has a track record of improving at the plate. He was once a contact-only hitter, known for his glove and speed. But the 23-year-old Garcia saw a significant power jump in 2022, hitting 11 home runs in the minors, then four more in winter-league action. It may not seem like much, but Garcia only had five career home runs in any professional action before 2022. Whatever Garcia found, it shot him up the prospect rankings to Kansas City's third-best prospect in 2023, according to MLB Pipeline. They still only give him a 35-power grade, but that is a bump from his 2022 and 2021 profiles.
On top of the power, Garcia did not look overwhelmed in limited major-league action in 2022. He had 23 plate appearances, collecting seven hits and an RBI in nine games. The .318 batting average and .711 OPS are from a small sample size, but they still exceeded fans' expectations for his debut.
The only thing holding Garcia back now is the people ahead of him, believe it or not. He has played exclusively in the infield during his professional career, with nearly 4,000 innings at shortstop. Some analysts called for the Royals to move Bobby Witt Jr. to third base and let Garcia's plus-glove take over at shortstop. After all, Witt's defensive struggles at shortstop were well-documented last year, and he may be a better fit for the hot corner. But, manager Matt Quatraro expressed confidence and patience with Witt at shortstop.
""I think his defense will get better...I think being at one position is going to be a big bonus for him.""- Matt Quatraro
So, Garcia's path to the majors via shortstop is pretty closed off. MLB.com's Anne Rogers did report that Garcia will have a chance at playing third base this spring, but he has played only five innings and has no defensive opportunities there. Garcia starting Opening Day as the third baseman is improbable, and they would not hinder his development there by leaving him on the bench in Kansas City. The other option is moving Garcia to an outfield role for the time being, a position that his speed and glove would transition to just fine. But there is a learning curve to any position, and the Royals should have other outfield options than Garcia.
If the Royals coaches decide moving Garcia to another position is the route, he will need time to learn that new position. Garcia could make a mid-season debut, like first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino in 2022. Still, he must show more defensive versatility first and maintain his batting performance from last year. Both are no easy feat, but Garcia could make himself undeniable before the season's end.