The Oakland A’s made a high-profile trade this month, sending away slugger Khris Davis and his big salary in exchange for a similarly expensive new shortstop in Elvis Andrus. In addition to those highlight names, the A’s also sent over a pair of prospects, and the Rangers kicked in a considerable amount of cash plus another player.
In terms of payroll, the exchange was Andrus for Davis, each earning eight figures this season. But Davis might not have played a big role on the A’s this year anyway if his long slump continued, so in 2021 roster terms it was more like Andrus for Jonah Heim, the MLB-ready catching prospect who went to Texas in the deal. Heim was the backup catcher in Oakland by the end of last year, and would have made the Top 10 of our Community Prospect List.
That loss was a significant hit to the A’s catching depth for this season, but fortunately the other player they received in the deal can slide right into the open spot. He’s not rated as highly as Heim right now, but he’s got notable former prospect stock and some experience in the majors. Let’s meet Aramis Garcia.
Background and stats
Born and raised in Florida, including college at FIU in Miami, Garcia was a 2nd-round draft pick by the Giants in 2014. He took a slow path up the minors, roughly a level per year, and eventually reached Triple-A in 2018. After just a few weeks there, he got the call for his MLB debut at the end of August.
That first action in the majors went quite well. He struck out a ton but also blasted four homers, and enough of his scarce contact landed for hits to give him a decent batting average and a 117 wRC+ mark.
However, he didn’t build on that success the next year, as the strikeouts caught up with him. He taxied back and forth between Triple-A and MLB, and he still hit homers and struck out, but this time with a more reasonable BABIP that kept his wRC+ down at a ghastly 31.
Garcia, MLB career: .229/.270/.419, 81 wRC+, 6 HR, 5.4% BB, 46.8% Ks, .229 xwOBA
Despite his rough 2019 performance, Garcia entered 2020 as a favorite to win the Giants backup catching job out of camp. But then he hurt his right hip playing winter ball and needed labrum surgery in February, which put him out for more or less the rest of the year.
After that injury setback, he was waived in November and claimed by the Rangers, who then flipped the 28-year-old to Oakland in the Andrus trade. Texas had expected him to be ready for spring training after his long-term injury, and indeed he’s back at full strength in A’s camp.
As for Garcia’s stat line in the majors so far, his strikeout rate is terrifying through 37 games, and the brutal Statcast reflects it. For what it’s worth, his most recent Triple-A line is a bit more encouraging.
Garcia, 2019 AAA: .271/.343/.488, 99 wRC+, 16 HR, 9.2% BB, 30.7% Ks
Clearly swinging and missing is going to be a problem, but at least he drew some walks in the minors. And 16 homers in 89 games from the catcher spot should always get your attention.
We’ve seen what Garcia has done so far, but what’s his full skill set and what might he be capable of in the future?
The 6’1 right-handed hitter spent a couple years on Giants Top 10 prospect lists, but steadily fell over the last couple winters. Entering 2018 he was sixth in their organization per Baseball America, who said the following at the time:
Scouting Report: Garcia checks off two catcher boxes with plus raw power and a plus arm. He finished second in the Giants’ system with 17 home runs and he should hit for above-average power if he gets regular big league at-bats. But he’s projected as a .230-.240 hitter because of undeveloped plate discipline and concerns about swing length. Defensively Garcia has some stiffness behind the plate and evaluators are widely split on his receiving, noting his effort level isn’t always there. At his best, Garcia shows the ability to be an average defender with a big arm.
He fell out of their Top 10 at midseason, with a note that “his glove got better this year, but his bat has disappeared.”
In 2019, MLB Pipeline offered this update:
Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 40
Garcia has settled on a pull-heavy approach designed to get the most of out of his solid raw power, the product of his strength and the loft in his right-handed swing. He might hit 15-20 homers per year with regular playing time in the Majors, but his pop comes at a cost. He rolls over more soft grounders to the left side of the infield than he should and his aggressiveness means that he rarely walks.
Somewhat rough behind the plate when he entered pro ball, Garcia has worked hard to improve defensively. He has turned himself into an average receiver while also getting quicker and more accurate with his throws. The Giants have Buster Posey in the big leagues and drafted Joey Bart No. 2 overall last June, so they’ve tried to add to Garcia’s versatility by having him play first base.
It’s not as exciting of a profile as that of Heim, a switch-hitter with plate discipline and above-average defense. But it could be enough for a backup catcher who plays less than half the time, if he can just make a bit more contact at the plate.
The A’s made the playoffs twice with Josh Phegley as part of their catching duo, including once with him as the primary. He didn’t strike out as much as Garcia, but he’d post sub-.300 OPBs, pop a few dingers, and make sure at least 90% of pitches didn’t fly through to the backstop or hit the umpire. Garcia can match that adequate baseline, even if Heim had better odds of turning the role into more of a plus.
Heim was never the only option at backup catcher, as Austin Allen is also still here. He got an audition in 2020 but had roughly the same experience as Garcia did in 2019. Allen is also a bat-first player with power like Garcia, but from the left side and with far superior contact skills and less certain defense. He’s more likely to pan out as a hitter, but less likely to stick behind the plate on the other side of the ball.
As things stand, Garcia could make the Opening Day roster as the second catcher behind primary starter Sean Murphy, or he could begin the year in Triple-A as the next man up. One way or other, the addition of Aramis means there are still three masketeers on the MLB catching depth chart after the departure of Heim.