NORTH PORT, Fla.
With perhaps two surgery-created vacancies in the Yankees’ rotation, Deivi Garcia’s name should be involved in that discussion, at least on the periphery, after his meteoric rise through the minors last season.
When you’re tagged with the label of the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, the only destination that truly matters is the Bronx, but Garcia likely will need more than the next four weeks to prove he belongs there.
Still, Friday’s audition at Cool Today Park, facing some of the Braves’ most fearsome hitters, deserves to be in the plus column. Garcia struck out three of the lineup’s top five — Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud — but ultimately got bruised by Johan Camargo, who smacked a two-run homer in the second inning.
Camargo’s blast, on a 1-and-1 fastball up, was the only hit allowed by Garcia, who walked one and struck out three. He worked quickly, exhibited a nice little El Tiante deceptive twist to his windup, and fooled the Braves by changing speeds between a low-90s fastball (max 94) and a curve that bent in the high-70s.
Those are Garcia’s best two pitches, followed by a changeup and a work-in-progress slider that he threw only twice out of 37 pitches (25 strikes) Friday in two innings. Garcia froze the Braves looking at fastballs on each of his three strikeouts, an indication of how sneaky he can be.
“I like to use my fastball and surprise hitters, keep them off-balance and attack certain ways so I can surprise them with my fastball,” Garcia said through an interpreter. “Attack with a well-located fastball, and that’s what I did there.”
Garcia looks smaller than the 5-9 he’s listed at in the media guide, and he doesn’t come across as especially intimidating on the mound. His strength is understanding how to disarm hitters with great command and smart pitch sequences, some of which were on display Friday. What he could use more of is this type of experience, and at 20, there’s no rush.
“There’s things to clean up and correct and talk about,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But overall I thought he threw the ball really well and kind of gave a glimpse of why we're excited about him. This is an important step in the process along the way.”
Garcia got to the brink of the Bronx toward the end of last season after beginning the year at high Class A Tampa. Combining his three levels, Garcia’s 13.34 K/9 ratio ranked fourth overall in the minor leagues (minimum 75 innings), and MLB Pipeline rated his curveball as the best among all prospects.
He was relieved after staying put at the trade deadline and was not discouraged that he didn’t get a September call-up. As for a shot at cracking the Opening Day rotation this year, Garcia took the low-key approach.
“I can tell you that I’m the type of person that likes to compete,” he said. “I feel really good, I like challenges, I like competition. If opportunity comes, it would be great.”
The Yankees do have openings. Luis Severino is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery on Thursday and James Paxton won’t be back until May (at the earliest) because of back surgery.
Another unexpected close call was revealed Friday when the Yankees said Domingo German, who is serving a domestic-violence suspension until early June, escaped injury after being involved in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.
One of these slots likely will go to Jordan Montgomery, who will start Saturday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers. The Yankees are expected to opt for a more experienced arm in the fifth spot, such as Luis Cessa or Jonathan Loaisiga, or use Chad Green as an opener until Paxton is ready.
“Probably,” Boone said. “But sometimes with a skill set, you push yourself into the picture a little bit more. At the end of the day, this is the big leagues, and if guys leapfrog guys, so be it. There's always the developing portion that comes into play with these guys. And especially guys that you feel have pretty high ceilings or that have a chance to have really good big-league careers.
“You've got to be able to strike [a balance] with the short term and the long term, and those things are absolutely a part of the decision-making for guys.”
Obviously, the Yankees don’t have to render any of those decisions right now. They have plenty of time, and Garcia will get more chances to shine.