When I turned 20 years old, I was beginning my sophomore year of college. I lived in a closet-sized room, with a roommate, in the consensus worst dorm on my campus: a drab, poorly-lit brick box built in 1960 and scarcely touched since then, hidden within a dense residential neighborhood more than a mile from the campus center. Like many undergraduates, I was overworked and overtired. I spent countless nights trekking through the frigid Rhode Island wind after six or seven hours in the library wondering how I was going to pass my next midterm. My long-term career trajectory was probably the furthest thing from my mind at the time, for better or worse.
Deivi Garcia turned 20 years old yesterday. He doesn’t have to spend too much time these days worrying about what he’s going to do with his life. Instead of cramming for exams, Garcia is cruising through Double-A lineups every fifth day and quickly establishing himself as the most exciting pitching prospect in the Yankees organization. And it’s not just the numbers he’s putting up – it’s the unusually tender age at which he’s doing it. While there are reasons to be concerned about his viability as a big-league starter, Garcia’s stuff is undeniably legit. As he exits his teenage years and begins to test his mettle at the higher levels of the minors, his development is one of the top stories to watch for the rest of the season.
Garcia was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2015 and made his debut in full-season ball last year. He opened the season with a short start at High-A Tampa on June 5, and then made his next eight starts with Single-A Charleston, putting up some impressive stats: 3.76 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 37.1 K%, and .201 BAA across 40.2 innings. On August 6, Garcia was called back up to the Florida State League and tabbed to pitch in Tampa against Clearwater. The young pitcher ranked 20th in the Yankees system with a future value of 40 on the 20-80 scale in the FanGraphs preseason farm system report, proceeded to throw seven perfect innings, striking out 12. That’ll do. After three more effective outings with the Tarpons, Garcia was promoted to Double-A. He made his Thunder debut on September 2, once again at home, once again facing a Phillies affiliate…and did it again, striking out seven, walking two, and allowing zero hits across five innings. Garcia posted K rates north of 30 at every level of play last year and his numbers improved when he moved from Charleston to Tampa (1.96 FIP with the Tarpons).
This season, the scouts took notice. Garcia rocketed to third in the FanGraphs system rankings, fourth in MLB Pipeline’s organizational rankings, and first in Keith Law’s ESPN rankings, in which he also clocked in as the 61st ranked prospect in all of baseball. He opened the season with four starts for Tampa, only once pitching into the sixth inning but continuing to put up eye-popping numbers, posting a K percentage of 45.2 and FIP of just 0.99. Since his latest promotion to Trenton, he’s made three starts and kept the K rate north of 40. Double-A hitters are batting just .196 off Garcia in 2019.
The good for Garcia is good. Small sample notwithstanding, he’s having another excellent campaign and developing his stuff. He features a plus rising fastball that sits 92-94 and a curveball with hard vertical break that might be the single best pitch in the entire farm system right now. FanGraphs assigned it an FV of 65 before the season. Garcia rounds out his repertoire with a changeup that has potential to improve and a slider that he’s begun throwing this season. When it’s all working, the results are something to behold.
Deivi Garcia's nine strikeouts yesterday. Six on fastballs, two on curveballs, and one on a slider that appears to be a new pitch for him. pic.twitter.com/7gIAHsxJhi
— Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) May 16, 2019
Garcia’s age makes his performance all the more impressive. At Tampa this season, he was facing competition on which he was giving up an average of nearly three years, according to Baseball Reference. The age gap is even more significant at the Double-A level, where Garcia stares down hitters that are almost four and a half years older than he is, on average. It’s not often you see a teenager manhandling guys who could be 40-man eligible.
There are some slightly worrying trends as well, though the small-sample caveat is equally relevant here. Garcia’s control has betrayed him a bit in the early going. He’s walked 10 and hit a batter in just 14 innings with Trenton so far. While the strikeouts keep on coming, the K-BB ratio is perhaps not where he’d like it to be, and it’s affecting his ability to pitch deep into games. He’s also showing a knack for surrendering the big hit. All his runs given up at Double-A were conceded on just two swings: a grand slam in the fourth inning on May 1 against New Hampshire and a bases-clearing double in the third on May 15 against Harrisburg. The strand rate will hopefully smooth out as Garcia puts more innings under his belt.
And then there’s the ever-present question of size. Garcia is not a big dude – he measured 5’10 and 163 pounds in the offseason. “If Garcia were 6-foot-2, he probably would be talked about as a top-25 prospect,” Law wrote back in January. A pitcher of this size is always going to face concerns about durability, and it remains to be seen how Garcia’s slight frame will respond to a season’s worth of higher-level action. But I’ll put my money on Deivi. His rise has been mesmerizing thus far, and lest we forget, he’s barely 20 years old. At a time when most of us don’t quite have it together yet, Garcia is solidly on track for a bright future in the majors.