When looking at Ben Cherington’s short time as the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, you can certainly see a theme starting to develop with the type of players they draft.
They’ve gone with a college hitter with both of their top picks, and if you excelled at the Cape Cod League, chances are you caught the Pirates’ attention. Another theme that you may notice is that some of the players have versatile backgrounds. Not versatile in a traditional sense but have a history of both playing on the mound and in the field.
Bubba Chandler may be the most recognizable of the bunch, as it is expected he is going to get a legitimate shot at both hitting and pitching, but the Pirates second round pick from 2020, Jared Jones, was another notable two-way player in high school.
Another player from that draft class, Nick Garcia, also has some experience both hitting and pitching while at Division III Chapman. He settled into a pitching role the final two years of his career, and that’s what he will be going forward, after hitting .268/.326/.293 in 41 at-bats his freshman year.
Garcia made the transition to the mound and showcased the natural talent and upside to allow him to fly up the draft charts and land with the Pirates as the 79th overall pick in 2020.
Pitching out of the bullpen in 2019, Garcia finished with a 9-0 record, posting a 0.64 ERA in 30 appearances as the teams closer (12 saves). The righty struck out 82 batters and walked only 14 in 56 innings, owning a 0.80 WHIP.
Chapman shifted him to the rotation going into 2020, and when the season shut down, Garcia had a 4-1 record in five starts, posting a 2.33 ERA, striking out 36 in 27 innings pitched.
Garcia even pitched in the Cape Cod League, where some of his numbers weren’t the best, a 1-3 record and a 3.18 EAR with 11 walks in 17 innings pitched. He did strike out 20 batters, and he did enough against the competition to even further catch Cherington’s eyes.
Once drafted, Garcia was assigned to the low-A Bradenton Marauders, originally set to come out of the bullpen. In 21 games, 13 of which were starts, Garcia struck out 83 batters in 74 2/3 innings while posting a 4.22 ERA.
He held opponents to a .719 OPS and .232 average and threw 61% of his pitches for strikes.
After there being no minor league games in 2020, and the college/high school season’s cut short, fatigue was certainly something to monitor in 2021 and you can see that maybe impact Garcia some.
His month-to-month ERA inflated throughout the season from May to August (3.14, 3.65, 4.58, 5.03) before dropping in September (4.15).
Another noticeable number was his effectiveness out of the bullpen compared to as a starter. When a member of the rotation, Garcia posted a 2-3 record with a 4.91 ERA with 53 strikeouts across 51 1/3 innings. He allowed an .250 average and a 1.40 WHIP to opposing batters as a starter.
As a reliever, Garcia went 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA while holding his opponents to a .185 average and 1.24 WHIP. He struck out 30 batters in 23 1/3 innings while walking 14.
So, what’s the difference between Garcia starting and coming out of the bullpen? Especially knowing that most of the time he was going to pitch multiple innings in relief anyways.
You can see a little bit of an approach difference in outings that Garcia started and came out of the bullpen.
Here is a clip of Garcia in his first professional appearance, coming in relief of starter Santiago Florez. Garcia pitched three innings, allowed one hit, one walk, one run and struck out three, eventually earning a win in the process.
Garcia came out aggressive, throwing his fastball high in the zone, and harder than in other outings. He hit as high as 95 MPH in the game and used his sweeping breaking ball to get swings and misses in the dirt.
The final at bat shown was against Keoni Cavaco, a former first round pick who went to the same high school as Adrian Gonzalez and Marcelo Mayer. His breaking ball at the bottom of the strike zone was able to freeze him for a strike three call.
In the next video, it shows Garcia in maybe his best start of the season. On July 8th against the Clearwater Thresher Garcia pitched five shutout innings, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out five.
It was a strong inning but did struggle with his control of his breaking stuff, not a complete surprise for someone still adjusting to a full-time role on the mound. He had a particularly rough at bat against Rixon Wingrove, throwing several breaking pitches for balls, and leaving another a little too much over the plate that was hit hard foul.
Garcia is an interesting prospect to watch in 2022. He seems destined to be a reliever long-term, you can see the velocity drop as the game goes on in his start, but with his ability to stay in the rotation he will get far more opportunities to work on his stuff.
While he isn’t ranked in Baseball America’s or MLB Pipeline Top 30, his raw athletic ability keeps him a prospect to watch. To think, he is still on the newer side when it comes to pitching, and Garcia will really get tested in 2022 with a potential start in the hitter’s haven of First National Bank Field in Greensboro.