JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- Just hours after the Cardinals announced a deal with Cuban outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia, he was signing his contract in the offices of the Jupiter complex.
By Saturday morning, manager Mike Matheny had plenty to say.
“He’s a specimen, I’ll tell you that. Wow,” he said. “He seems like an all around athlete. He seems like he fits that.”
Garcia isn’t a towering presence, but his frame is packed with muscle and he has the arms of a longshoreman. More importantly, he has above average foot speed and reportedly a howitzer for an arm.
GM John Mozeliak said scouting reports paint Garcia as a five-tool player, and the team expects to see power at the plate coupled with an ability to play center field.
For his part, the soon-to-be 24-year-old described himself as a high-energy player.
“Whatever duty I am given, I can carry it out,” he said through a translator Saturday. “I would say I’m an aggressive player, always on defense, and I am doing it with discipline and passion.”
Garcia was MVP of Cuba’s top professional league in 2016, batting .315 and logging an OPS of .912. He had a brief stint in Japan but posted unremarkable stats during that stretch. His accrued body of work and age gave the Cardinals some advantages in the scouting and acquisition process, as there’s a clearer picture of the player the organization can expect.
“When you look at how we’re trying to add depth, this one is an interesting fit. This isn’t a 16-year-old kid. He’s more established and has had success at a high level,” Mozeliak said. “It’s a little easier because you have some performance data to look at.”
Another advantage is the team’s ability to avoid a tax hit on the $2.5 million minor league deal. Given Garcia’s age and experience, he did not fall under the international limitations and won’t impact St. Louis’ ability to maneuver within the international market.
Garcia, currently registered as a resident of Haiti, is unable to play in spring games until he acquires his work visa, which should be settled by mid March. He’ll need that time to get his feet back under him, as his defection to America did not leave time for baseball.
“I would say I feel ready, I’ve been working really hard, but my mentality is never to say I’m 100 percent ready. I think a little more preparation and I feel like I would be ready to play,” Garcia said.
The Cardinals are treating Saturday as essentially his report day, putting him two weeks behind the rest of players in terms of scheduling. That makes catching the eyes of the major league staff considerably more difficult, but the organization certainly has the idea of Garcia reaching the majors at some point this season on the table.
Garcia’s brother Adonis (31) has already reached the bigs, manning third base for the Braves. He’s hit .274 over two seasons with 24 home runs.
“My brother has been my role model and the goal I want to reach. Him being in the position he is in is really helpful for me to be able to see where I want to end up eventually,” he said.
St. Louis beat out competing offers for Garcia, securing him for what essentially amounts to $2.5 million bonus. He makes a minor league salary, and if he reaches the majors he will accrue service time like any other player and make the major league minimum. The deal just guarantees he receives the $2.5 million this year. Aledmys Diaz (signed for 4 years, $8 million) provided a road map for how the organization can pursue not only young Cuban prospects, but older, more established players. He also serves as an example for how the club handles that relationship.
“Obviously there were other offers and other teams, but I picked St. Louis because of the tradition,” Garcia said. “I knew I was going to fit in, especially with them having players like Diaz.”
If Garcia can follow in Diaz’s footsteps, the Cardinals will have struck gold for a second time in an older Cuban with an established record. But the latter taught them patience, as Diaz was pulled off the 40-man in 2015 after injury and underperformance. He exploded into the bigs out of spring training in 2016 and appeared in the All-Star Game after a red-hot first half.
With the visa issue, Cardinal fans will have to wait to see Garcia in action. He will continue to work on the practice fields until cleared for games.