Garcia Impresses Phillies With Strong Work Ethic

READING—Sal Agostinelli admits he wasn't instantly bowled over by infield prospect Harold Garcia five years ago, when he first saw him play.

Jesus Mendez, who scouts Venezuela for the Phillies, brought Garcia to the Phillies' Venezuelan complex for Agostinelli, the organization's international scouting supervisor, to check out. Agostinelli was hesitant to sign him.

"I could see why guys (from other organizations) weren't in love with him," Agostinelli said. "He didn't look real smooth at second base. He was not a real big guy. He wasn't the fastest. You didn't look at him and say, 'I've gotta have that guy.' "

Agostinelli decided to let Garia—at 18, already a couple of years older than the prospects usually signed in that part of the world—stay at the Phillies academy for two weeks to work with the coaching staff.

What they saw was a guy who worked harder than anyone they had seen. What they saw was potential.

"Once they saw his makeup, it was a no-brainer," said Agostinelli, who signed Garcia for a modest $12,000 bonus.

Garcia flew under the radar until earlier this season, when he put together a 37-game hitting streak for high Class A Clearwater, breaking the 59-year-old Florida State League record.

A day after setting the record he was promoted to Double-A Reading, where he continued to hit and open eyes. Suddenly a Phillies system that's thin on position players at the upper levels has a guy people are talking about.

"To me, he's exciting," said Reading manager Steve Roadcap, who hadn't seen Garcia play until early July. "Very interesting (prospect). He's an athlete, and there's something there."

Finding A Profile

No one's saying that Garcia's going to be pushing Chase Utley off second base. At this point he's regarded as a versatile guy with speed and above-average pop for a middle infielder—and a guy who can stick in the big leagues.

The Phillies plan to send him to instructional league, where he'll work on his defense at third base, left field and center field.

"If he can play all three (positions), use his footspeed in the outfield, switch-hit, steal a base every now and then," Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said, "in the National League, that (kind of) player is invaluable."

Garcia could well be the best Latin American find for the Phillies since they spent $5,000 on a slow-footed Panamanian second baseman 11 years ago. That guy turned into an all-star catcher—Carlos Ruiz.

Garcia, now 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, is bigger, stronger and faster than the prospect Agostinelli first saw.

He's also much better with the glove, turning himself into average-or-better defender with good range and a solid arm. He had made just three errors in his first 49 games for Reading and has formed a connection with countryman Freddy Galvis, Reading's 20-year-old shortstop.

That improvement with the glove comes from his tireless work over the course of his seven seasons in the Phillies system.

"His makeup is off the charts," Agostinelli said. "He's made himself into a big league prospect because he's worked really, really hard. His tools progressively have gotten better. If you saw him, he wasn't nearly the physical type guy he is now.

"I didn't know if he had a position, but I knew he could run and he could hit, and I thought that they would find a position for him."

There For The Taking

People around the Phillies organization started paying attention to Garcia last season when he batted .291 with 42 stolen bases for South Atlantic League champion Lakewood. He hit .364 and drove in six runs in six postseason games. Still, he wasn't added to the 40-man roster and passed through the Rule 5 draft untouched.

Garcia's 2010 season didn't start until the middle of May because he had the hamate bone in his left hand removed late in spring training.

Six weeks later he joined Clearwater and started hitting immediately. He began a hitting streak on May 24 that didn't end for six weeks. When he singled against Daytona Beach on July 4 he eclipsed the league record set by Joe Altobelli (who also ended up playing in Reading, for the Indians in 1951 and 1952).

"People know me a little bit now, because I broke that record," Garcia said. "That's good for me. Everybody knows my name now. All I have to do is keep working, and more people are going to know my name."

"I wouldn't bet against him," LaMar said. "Don't be surprised at all if in the next couple years he doesn't make the major leagues in some capacity."

Garcia batted .335 with an impressive .889 OPS in 46 games at Clearwater this year. He was the organization's player of the month in June after batting .370 with 22 RBIs.

His first look at Double-A pitching did little to slow his path to the big leagues. He batted .331 with an .854 OPS during his first month in the Eastern League, though his production had slowed down in recent weeks. He was batting .289 with 30 RBIs through 49 games.

Despite his late start, and relative anonymity, Garcia is confident he'll make it.

"I feel I'm going to play in the big leagues," he said, "I just have to keep working and keep working, but I'm going to get there."

Mike Drago covers baseball for the Reading Eagle