Victor Garcia Jr. is as surprised as anyone these days.
Victor Garcia Jr. is as surprised as anyone these days.
When he came to the West Coast League's Medford Rogues for his first turn at collegiate wood-bat summer baseball, the thought of being known as a home run threat was the last thing on his mind.
Garcia hadn't hit a home run since his standout days at Plainfield South High School in Illinois, and even then it wasn't something he strived for when he stepped into the batter's box.
But when you possess a swing as smooth as Garcia's, and square up the baseball on such a consistent basis, big things apparently happen.
The 6-foot, 180-pound first baseman entered Monday night's WCL contest in Corvallis with a league-best six home runs in only 16 games. Garcia is only three homers shy of the WCL record of nine shared by Chris Casazza (Moses Lake Pirates in 2009) and Taylor Sparks (Wenatchee AppleSox in 2012).
"I don't know what's going on with that," the affable Garcia said Monday. "I'm just putting good swings on it. Lately they've been working me inside and I'm getting my barrel to the ball and luckily they're going out."
As cool as it has been to watch the baseball exit the ballpark — especially at Harry & David Field, where home runs are a rarity — Garcia still feels uncomfortable with being labeled a home run threat.
"I don't want to be considered a home run guy," said Garcia. "I'd rather hit for average and hit the gaps. I don't know what's up with these home runs, but I'll definitely take them."
Besides holding a one-homer advantage over Corvallis' Kevin Kline, Garcia leads the WCL in slugging percentage (.695) and ranks third in RBIs (20) despite missing about two weeks after aggravating a back injury. He's batting .322 overall with 15 runs scored, four doubles, 12 walks and only six strikeouts.
Making Garcia's totals that much more impressive is the fact that he's one of the youngest players on the Rogues' roster at age 18. He won't turn 19 until Aug. 11, which is two days after he'll have to leave the team (prior to the playoffs).
"I don't even think about him being a young guy just because he carries himself with such maturity and plays the game with such maturity," said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. "He's been awesome for us all year and been steady and consistent for us, which is what we really like and why he's in the lineup as often as he is."
The Rogues didn't expect such a strong output from Garcia, but the promising signs were there as they worked to fill out the roster.
"I knew he was going to play a pretty good first base and would be scrappy at the plate," said Hogan, "but I didn't think he'd be this good."
The left-handed hitting Garcia batted .273 with 23 runs and 21 RBIs in 53 games this past spring as a freshman for Texas Pan-American, and he left that campaign unsatisfied. He vowed to use this summer as a springboard to bigger and better, and it began Day 1, when he hit a pair of home runs against Bend in his Medford debut.
"He's just been tearing it up for us and he's really not trying to do too much with the baseball, which is good," said Hogan. "Sometimes you start hitting home runs and then you want to do everything you can to keep hitting them. You start changing things and swinging to hit home runs, and that's not usually how it works."
"That's the great thing about it," added Hogan, "Victor's not trying to do more now that he's having success hitting home runs, he's just sticking with the process and what's working for him."
What makes Garcia such a capable hitter, according to Hogan, is that he's very short to the baseball and stays through it a long time with his extension. It's exactly what Hogan said he's looking for in a hitter, and a trait for which Garcia gladly doles out credit to long-time hitting coach Tony Folino.
"He has worked with me since I was 10 years old," said Garcia. "I love that guy to death. He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around and knows the game more than anyone I've ever known. He's taught me so much and I thank him for everything I am today."
Garcia also credits the positive, supporting atmosphere he's found in Medford for helping make his transition a seamless one this summer. Beyond a great roster of teammates, Garcia said he and Rogues pitcher Trent Shelton have had a great experience with their host parents, Mike and Jessica Ragan, and their children, McKensie and Jordan.
"They're absolutely awesome," Garcia said of his host family. "They spoil me. They give me everything I need and I know my roommate can speak on that as well. We both absolutely love living there. They're all awesome people."
He went hiking recently for the first time since coming to the Rogue Valley, and plans to go fishing and water skiing before he leaves town.
"When I first got here I was seeing all these mountains and trees and stuff," said Garcia, "and the first day I was here I was taking pictures of them and Jordan was asking me why I'd want to take pictures, but I'd never seen anything like it. It's beautiful here. Since he lives here he's seeing it every day and not too wowed by it, but I am."
Garcia said he never once considered that he may play baseball in Oregon, but his only request when Texas Pan-Am coaches approached him about summer league play was that he be sent to the best league possible. In the WCL, he has found good competition against Division I players from the likes of Oregon State, Oregon and beyond, as well as a common desire to learn from each other.
"I absolutely love playing summer baseball here," he said. "I think that's because it's no pressure. You come in and show up and every day it's chill. There's something about summer ball, it's just awesome waking up every day and playing. I've never done anything like this, playing every day, but I definitely love it. It's a grind but that's what I'm here for."
Now if records come along with his experience, then so be it.
"Hopefully I can beat it," Garcia said of the WCL's home run standard, "but if I don't then I don't. Hopefully my (batting) average stays up, that's my main thing."
"For me, I'm just going to keep playing and keep getting better," he added. "That's all I can ask for this summer. I know I'm going to give 100 percent every day and hopefully that will help me get better."
Corvallis' Kline stands to be his chief challenger for the home run title. He has five home runs and a WCL-best 28 RBIs in 25 games, and his .368 batting average is fourth in the league behind Yakima Valley's Jake Roberts (.400), Walla Walla's Sean Bouchard (.381) and Medford's Nathan Etheridge (.377).
Corvallis owned a half-game advantage over the Rogues in the WCL South standings entering Monday's opening game of a three-game series. The Knights swept Medford in last week's series, also in Corvallis.
"We're doing great now," Garcia said. "We had a little bump in the road (with a recent five-game losing streak), but it's a good thing and it just brings us closer and makes us want it more."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry