During a radio segment on 670 The Score in Chicago Wednesday, Cubs president of operations Theo Epstein announced that the Cubs had optioned reliever Dillon Maples back to Triple-A Iowa and they were calling up infielder Robel Garcia.
Garcia, 26, has hit .285/.364/.594 with 14 doubles, 21 homers and 58 RBI between Triple-A (50 games) and Double-A (22 games) this season. He’s a switch hitter with lots of raw power. The ball jumps off his bat, say those who have seen him play multiple times. There is some concern with his swing-and-miss tendencies (90 strikeouts in 256 at-bats), but he’s got light-tower power, and that plays in the bigs.
This is kind of beside the point, though. Garcia’s story is a testament to never giving up on one’s dreams. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic and made his professional debut at age 17 in rookie ball in the Indians‘ system. He would only climb as high as Class A before being released after 67 games in 2013.
Following Garcia’s release, he was not picked up by another organization. He continued to play competitive baseball and ended up on a professional team out of Italy. During spring training, the Italian national team played the A’s and a Cubs scout happened to be there.
“He stood out physically with his body and then he gets up to the plate and it sounds different off the bat,” [Scout Gabe] Zappin told The Athletic (via Forbes). “He hit a ball into the desert off a really good arm and then he came back up and hit one off the center-field fence. So I thought, ‘Boy, who is this kid and what’s he doing here?'”
The Cubs signed him from there and he’s made his way up the ladder quite rapidly. What a great story, huh? He wasn’t in affiliated baseball from 2014-18 and had never previously even been to Double-A. Now he’s going to hit The Show.
Garcia has started 20 games at second base and 36 at third base this season. The Cubs have Kris Bryant at third base and can play David Bote there if Bryant starts in the outfield. In looking at second base, though, where the Cubs have played Bote, Daniel Descalso and frequently Addison Russell in the past few weeks, Robel seems like a big upgrade on offense.
Cubs second basemen this season have hit .211/.296/.343 with just nine homers. Descalso has been brutal. Russell is hitting .248/.316/.413 and through 577 career games has a career line of .242/.313/.393. He’s not going to just wake up and be even a league-average hitter. He is what he’s been for a long time: a poor hitter. Bote is probably best served as a utility backup.
Wednesday night’s lineup does not have Garcia in it, but the best guess is he’ll make his debut as a pinch hitter at some point.
Perhaps from here, Garcia carves out a role for himself. The Cubs are in a major funk and could use a shot in the arm. Garcia’s already got a great story and now if he provides new life to the struggling Cubs, he becomes an even greater story.