FORT MILL, S.C. — With an engaging smile that will endear him to Chicago, Avisail Garcia grabbed my notebook Thursday in the Charlotte Knights dugout when he turned our conversation to the supportive role his wife, Anakarina, has played in his career.
Mental note: The kid has quick hands. Garcia, a 22-year-old outfielder married in May, already had kidded about how much his new bride bristled at his funky, faux-hawk hairstyle that wasn't her idea. Now the doting husband was sweating the details.
"A-N-A-K-A-R-I-N-A — I want to make sure you spell it right," Garcia said as he wrote out the name of his wife. "For me, my family is everything, my biggest priority. They keep you focused and strong. That's what life is about: balance."
This lesson in perspective came up during Garcia's level-headed response to being one phone call from taking the next flight to Midway Airport. With the Sox likely trying to work out a waiver deal with the Rangers for right fielder Alex Rios that would make promoting Garcia a no-brainer, the Venezuelan acquired from the Tigers in the Jake Peavy trade practically keeps a carry-on bag near the on-deck circle. The only question seems when, not if. He looks ready, Rick Hahn.
Meanwhile, Garcia coolly counts down to a different date of significance. The hottest prospect in the White Sox organization remains focused on the pending arrival of a Garcia — just not the one they are buzzing about on the South Side.
"We are due in September and it's a girl," Garcia said proudly. "That's all I'm really waiting for. I am not thinking about when the White Sox call me up. I don't pay attention. I don't want to put pressure on myself. They know."
Whenever the Sox stop delaying the inevitable, they will welcome a fluid, 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete whose strength and speed show up more often at the NFL combine than in a Triple-A lineup. Hahn, the White Sox general manager, acknowledged Garcia might eventually wind up as a corner outfielder, but he covers ground gracefully enough to let him develop in center. He glides.
He runs so well that Knights manager Joel Skinner said Garcia "caught a couple of shortstops off guard" recently by beating out two infield hits. He possesses an arm that should require registration and hunger you would expect from someone lured out of Anzoategui, Venezuela, as a 16-year-old free agent for $200,000. Most impressively, Garcia knows what he doesn't know as a hitter.
The son of an oil executive who dreamed of following boyhood hero Magglio Ordonez into the majors, Garcia brings maturity to the plate that complements innate ability.
Garcia, who learned English as an 18-year-old taking classes between Class A games well enough to converse fluently, figures solving pitchers should be no problem.
"I need better patience," Garcia said. "In this game, you have to be consistent. It's hard to play baseball. It gets easier when you figure out how they're going to pitch you. That comes with experience."
No wonder the most memorable Garcia plate appearance, in Skinner's mind, involved a base on balls. Garcia stroked 10 hits in his first seven games as a Knight and entered Thursday hitting .556 with runners in scoring position over 40 Triple-A games with Toledo and Charlotte, but Skinner preferred to stress the time he left the bat on his shoulder.
"Bases loaded and he worked the count to 3-2," Skinner recalled. "He fouled off a bunch of pitches and didn't go out of his zone and took the walk."
Speaking of taking walks, Garcia embraced discussing a weighty issue that occasionally creates whispers. Will Garcia's girth be an asset or a liability as he ages? He answered by referring to his weight as if it were his batting average.
"Today I'm at 240 and I had breakfast and a little bit for dinner so I'll go down to 237," Garcia said. "I'm not worried. Nobody should be. I lose weight fast. I play every day and do my daily exercises."
Sooner rather than later, Garcia should be stretching at U.S. Cellular Field as a member of the new Sox core trying to supplant his old team atop the AL Central. The vibrant Venezuelan laughed when asked if he had any reservations about that future reality — or facing Justin Verlander.
"No, I can hit Verlander," Garcia said, grinning. "I got him in spring training."
With nine Sox games left against the Tigers, bet on another chance coming this season after a promotion. In due time, Garcia trusts everything will turn out just fine.