You know how the routine works. The Cubs sign a young player, and send him to Short-Season ball. To the extent he does well there, he advances. Hurrying him along, though, really isn’t on the menu. The goal is to teach him the basics. Let him struggle, and succeed. Through his three or four years in the system, he gathers the knowledge he needs, and is added to the 40-man roster after an extended indoctrination process. That’s not how it’s working with Robel Garcia.
From Las Matas de Farfan, Dominican Republic, Garcia started his affiliated career in the Cleveland system in 2010. After two years in the Arizona Summer League (his second much better than his first), he moved to the Midwest League (where he struggled) and the one-step-lower NY/Penn League (where he wasn’t much better) in 2012. He was no better at either level in 2013, and was released in 2014.
Last year, the Cubs stumbled into Garcia mashing for an Italian League team. The Cubs signed him to a minor-league deal in October, as they have so many times before, and sent him to the team’s compound. He shined in minor league spring training, and was sent to the Tennessee Smokies in April. “But, he’s kind of old for the level.” So? The age wasn’t the question. Could he hit?
He did, and was named the Cubs MiLB Player of the Month for April. With most players, teams go into slow-play mode. They let him hang around to see the league a second time through. They realize they have his contract for an absurdly long time, and take full advantage of that. With Garcia, though, that’s far from the case. He was Rule 5 draft-eligible last December. He will be again this December. The Cubs are best finding out how good Garcia is as quickly as possible.
On Thursday, he debuted for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in Memphis against the Redbirds. He delivered an insurance two-run double in the eleventh inning, after drawing a walk earlier. He has hits in his first three Pacific Coast League games. The switch-hitting third baseman has the rest of the season to show whether or not he belongs in MLB with the Cubs.
Sometimes, baseball fans make a point of a player’s age. Garcia turned 26 in March. He was old for the Southern League. He’s older than a decent number of the players in the PCL. Age is a component, but it shouldn’t be considered the component with a player like Garcia. He was located and signed as a free agent. Part of the reason he was so available was his age, probably. In this case, why should it matter?
For a first-round draft choice, age might well matter. For a player signed for a rather minute amount, when he turned twenty is of little consequence. The Cubs didn’t lavish millions on Garcia to be a key component for years to come. They signed him because he was playing well. As long as Garcia plays well, it doesn’t much matter if he’s 26, 29, or 32. He might be the type of player the Cubs can put on the MLB roster, and stow in Iowa the next few years to shuttle in and out as the 13th hitter on the parent club.
If 2020 rolls around and Garcia has claimed a 40-man roster spot, he’d be about ideal (if he can represent that he can hit) to use as that bonus pinch hitter on the bench every game. Or, if he isn’t quite that, he can play most of the time for the I-Cubs, and get called up when an infielder or outfielder will miss some time. The extra bench spot ought to further eradicate the outmoded idea of a “traditional nine-man lineup.” Joe Maddon has run far away from that, because it’s often less effective than getting players occasional days off.
And, if Garcia is over-matched by Triple-A pitching, he was a fun story, anyway. Here is an international game that includes Garcia hitting for a cycle. (The announcer tells a fun Earl Weaver story around the 12:30 mark.) Part of the joy of baseball is that size doesn’t make or break a player. Nor does age or port of call. If Garcia can play well enough, he can help the Cubs. If he can do that for a long enough time (which could be a matter of weeks), he could go down in team lore.
For a recent comp, he looks a bit like Jeimer Candelario at the plate. I’m not entirely sold with his defense yet, but even National League teams are going to be more about adding “guys who can hit” in the next few years. Irrespective of defense, a bench bat who can deliver a timely single will be welcomed, with the extra bench spot. Regardless his age (and 26 isn’t that old, anyway), Garcia’s bat might be welcomed to Wrigley. Perhaps, sooner than later.