Yankees move top prospect Deivi Garcia to the bullpen, and he could pitch his way on to their postseason roster
Garcia has struck out 159 batters in 105 2/3 minor-league innings this year
In nine days MLB teams will be able to expand their active rosters from 25 players up to as many as 40 players. September call-up rules change beginning next season -- next year September rosters will be limited to 28 players -- but, this year, the rules are the same as always. Teams can carry a 40-man active roster if they choose.
Truth be told, few September call-ups have a legitimate impact on the field. Most September call-ups are extra bodies to help rest the regulars during blowouts and down the stretch. Every once in a while though, we see a 2002 Francisco Rodriguez situation, where a young September call-up impresses and becomes a key piece in October.
Yankees right-hander Deivi Garcia . The 20-year-old Garcia has a 4.09 ERA in 105 2/3 innings this season, though he's soared up three minor-league levels because his stuff is electric. His 34.6 percent strikeout rate is fourth best among the 355 pitchers with at least 100 minor-league innings this year.
The Yankees moved Garcia to the bullpen with their Triple-A affiliate earlier this week. The move was made in part to control his workload -- his previous career high was 74 innings last year -- but the team is also auditioning him for a potential bullpen role in September. The Yankees did the same thing with Justus Sheffield last year and Joba Chamberlain way back in the day.
Regarding Garcia's role change, here's what Triple-A manager Jay Bell told Conor Foley of the Scranton Times-Tribune:
"It's a couple different reasons," Bell said. "One, just to preserve pitches and that kind of stuff. But they also want to see if he's an option in New York in September. So, we'll see what happens there."
In his bullpen debut Thursday night, Garcia struck out five and allowed a run in two innings. There's enough time for him to get as many as three more relief appearances before September 1, plus the Yankees could always keep him in Triple-A through the end of the postseason, if they choose.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman admitted Garcia could be a September bullpen candidate -- "We've got to finish his development off. If he does help here this year, it'll be out of the bullpen," Cashman said during a recent radio interview -- and the team is preparing for that possibility now. Garcia is a starter by trade. They want him to get familiar with the bullpen before calling him up.
MLB.com ranks Garcia as the 64th best prospect in baseball. Here's a snippet of their scouting report:
Garcia's best pitch is a high-spin curveball with so much depth that he'll have to prove he can land it for strikes when more advanced hitters don't chase it out of the zone as often. He also gets good spin on his fastball, which plays better than its 91-96 mph velocity with deceptive riding life. He made strides with his fading changeup in 2018, creating optimism that it can become at least a solid third offering ... His fastball/curveball combination should play well in the late innings if he winds up as a reliever.
Furthermore, minor-league pitching coordinator Scott Aldred praised Garcia's work ethic and coachability to The Athletic's Lindsey Adler recently. The Yankees are as analytically inclined as any team in the game and that extends into the minors. Garcia takes the information and uses it well. From Adler:
"For me, the whole thing is how quickly guys take in information that we give them and their ability to process it and apply it," Aldred said. "Deivi is one of the best in the organization at that and he's doing everything that we've asked him to do and he's done it very well."
There are two questions with Garcia going forward. First, can he command his impressive arsenal? Garcia has walked 11.7 percent of the batters he's faced this year, and that's not command trouble, that's basically strike-throwing trouble. Control is getting the ball over the plate. Command is painting the corners. Garcia is still working on the former, nevermind the latter.
Secondly, Garcia is only 5-foot-9, and there has long been an industry bias against short right-handers. It's not undeserved either. Since MLB expanded in 1961, only 13 righties standing no taller than 5-foot-10 have racked up 10 WAR in their careers, and four of the 13 are relievers. Durability and the ability to pitch downhill are the main concerns with short righties.
That said, pitcher development and pitcher usage has changed a ton in recent years, so a shorter righty could be more viable in today's game. Also, the Yankees would bring Garcia up in September for a short-term boost. They'll worry about the long-term down the road. They see a pitcher with a sky high strikeout rate and nasty stuff. It's worth giving him a September look.
The Yankees are not desperate for bullpen help. Their setup crew (Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino) ahead of closer Aroldis Chapman is arguably the best in the league. Their rotation is wobbly though, and given his ability to throw multiple innings, Garcia could be a nice middle innings bridge piece. Someone to pitch the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, for example.
Last year lefty Stephen Tarpley went from September call-up to the postseason roster with the Yankees, so if Garcia impresses, New York won't hesitate to carry him on their roster in October. They'll take their best arms. Given the state of their rotation, the more strikeout relievers who can pitch multiple innings, the better. That'll allow them to effectively bullpen the postseason.
Garcia turned only 20 in May, but he's checked every box as he's climbed the minor-league ladder, and he figures to get a chance to strut his stuff in the big leagues in September. The raw stuff fives him a chance to make an impact. Garcia is preparing for a bullpen role right now, and given the team's rotation issues, Garcia has a real chance to pitch himself into the postseason mix.
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