TAMPA — Deivi Garcia is feeling healthy, throwing hard again and working on a relatively new pitch. The early days of spring training for the talented but work-in-progress righty have gone well.
Of course Garcia wants to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster, but the urgency for both pitcher and club is not at a peak previously thought.
Garcia has one more season with a minor league option remaining, which is contrary to public information. Last year, when a struggling Garcia was shut down for two months as the Yankees cited a finger injury and an all-around reset, Garcia did not log the requisite time on a roster to use up an option.
To exhaust their minor league options, players must spend at least 90 days on a roster — major or minor league — for five seasons. Garcia was not on a minor league roster for 90 days in 2022.
Thus, if Garcia does not make the Yankees’ major league staff out of camp, he can be sent to the minors without being claimed by another team. Essentially, the Yankees and the at-times electric prospect have a mulligan on last season, which was one to forget.
Garcia, who had burst on the big-league scene as a 21-year-old phenom in 2020, had disappeared from the radar since. He struggled in two major league starts the following season and was knocked around at both the Double- and Triple-A levels in 2021 and 2022.
If Yankees fans were wondering what has happened since 2020, the club itself has pondered the same question.
“I don’t know [what has gone wrong],” manager Aaron Boone said Monday, a day after Garcia’s solid Grapefruit League debut. “He’s had some injuries that have popped up on him that cost him a little bit, but I don’t know. If we had that answer, we would have corrected it by now.”
The fall has been as sharp as the rise. Back in 2019 and ’20, Garcia was shooting through the Yankees system as a Dominican who often was compared to Pedro Martinez — and not just because of his 5-feet-9 stature. Garcia, with a mid-90s fastball, knee-buckling curveball and effective changeup, blazed his way to not just a major league debut but a playoff start in 2020.
“When he came up, we had a small sample of success, but a lot of it was probably from the moxie he showed on the mound,” pitching coach Matt Blake said. “He was probably irrationally confident given the amount of time he had. But then I think he got away from that a little bit. He had a little bit of struggles, and then it’s hard to stay confident when you get punched in the face.”
Garcia absorbed more hooks than he threw last season. With mechanical issues, decreased velocity and a control problem, he sported a 10.38 ERA in seven Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starts to begin his 2022 campaign. Then came the mental and physical reset at the Yankees’ Tampa facilities. He spent late July through September at Double-A and Triple-A, without much obvious improvement.
“I think consistency has been the one issue that kind of put me back and forth,” Garcia said Monday through an interpreter. “That’s something that I’ve worked on over the years, and when you have a tough season, that also serves as a learning experience.”
In his spring debut Sunday, Garcia’s hard fastball was back, maxing out at 97 mph during two scoreless innings against the Braves. Garcia credited both maturity and added strength for his top-notch stuff returning.
The now 23-year-old surprised in throwing a few cutters, an offering he began to learn last spring and one Blake said would be “big” for him. Several Yankees pitchers, including Clarke Schmidt and Nestor Cortes, have added cutters in the past few years.
“We saw an aggressive version of Deivi, which was really good,” Blake said. “The fastball velocity life was good, the characteristics on it metrically were good. Then just being confident to rip the cutter off of that. Being aggressive in the zone is really important for him.”
It was one outing, but the Yankees saw what they have wanted to see for a few years. The club will be happy Garcia has one more year to grow within the system, rather than the Yankees shoehorning him onto the major league roster as soon as they break camp.
“I’m just trying to compete,” Garcia said. “Trying to make a space [on the major league roster], really, but the focus is on the competition.”
— Additional reporting by Greg Joyce