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Tigers don't want to limit Garcia with backup role

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Avisail Garcia demonstrated how well he could handle left-handed pitching in key situations down the stretch last season, including the playoffs. He showed how much of a strength his arm could be on defense. He didn't get much of a chance to show off his legs, but his speed is evident in his Minor League history.

At age 21, he already has the tools to fill a role on the Tigers roster. Detroit's decision with him is about more than that. It's about getting more out of him for the long term. The question they face is whether he can develop in the big leagues without playing every day.

The Tigers see a chance for Garcia to become much more than a platoon player. They don't want to limit his development simply to have him fill a role as an extra outfielder and bench contributor. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski expressed that during the offseason. Manager Jim Leyland said the same Monday morning.

"I doubt very much whether he'd be a bench player," Leyland said. "Now if you're talking about a bench player as opposed to a platoon player, that's two different things. But I would not take him just to sit around and pinch-hit him."

Tigers officials think he's close to developing into the player they foresee, which might explain why they wouldn't overspend for a role-playing outfielder to platoon in left with Andy Dirks. Yet for all he showed during his season-ending stint in Detroit, Garcia has a lot of room to grow.

His power remains a work in progress, hidden in the numbers. For someone with just 37 home runs over five Minor League seasons, Garcia impresses when he has a chance to unleash his raw power. He sent at least two drives over the left-field fence on one of the back fields at Tigertown during batting practice Monday afternoon. One landed among the trees. Those are the shots that earn him comparisons, fair or not, with teammate and friend Miguel Cabrera.

Garcia did not pull the ball like that in the big leagues. His trademark hit last fall, an opposite-field line drive into right field, bore a stronger resemblance to another Venezuelan Tiger great, Magglio Ordonez. Those are the kind of hits that made him tough for left-handers.

The belief is that the power will come around as Garcia matures, though he already looks like an imposing presence at the plate with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. He needs time, but he also needs experience. The question is whether he can get enough of that in Detroit.

As to whether it gives Garcia something to prove this spring, he's staying out of the debate.

"I'm just going to try to do my job," Garcia said Monday afternoon. "When you work hard, good things come. I just control playing hard and working hard. They make the decision."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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