20. Rico Garcia (314 points, 29 ballots)
In a figurative sense, Rico Garcia came out of nowhere (he had received zero PuRPs votes before the midseason 2018 list) to leap into prospect status in 2018, representing one of the best surprises of the year for a system that needed it. Literally though, Garcia came out of Hawaii Pacific as a 30th round pick in 2016 (for more on Garcia’s story as well as his arsenal and quotes from the man himself, please check out this May 2018 Purple Row feature by contributor oneforthreewithawalk)
The 5’11” righty starter was assigned immediately to Boise, where he failed to distinguish himself in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League despite a 8.9 K/9 rate and 3.85 FIP. The Rockies held Garcia back from full-season ball in 2017, having him repeat in Boise for eight good starts before a late July promotion to Low A Asheville. Against hitters who were on average about a year younger, Garcia’s 28 innings in the South Atlantic League saw him post a 2.57 ERA as well as 9.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 rates. This was good enough for the Rockies to assign Garcia to High A for his first full season campaign. He responded with arguably the most impressive pitching season the system saw in 2018.
As has been mentioned before in this series and elsewhere, Colorado’s Lancaster affiliate in the High A California League just might be the most hitter-friendly venue in all of minor league baseball with its combination of warm weather, altitude, and winds gusting toward the outfield. In that environment, maintaining an ERA below 4.00 is an excellent outcome. Garcia rose to the challenge (aided by the fact he was about 0.8 years older than average) in Lancaster with 100 innings over 16 appearances where his 3.42 ERA was among the best we’ve seen from a Lancaster starting pitcher in some time. Supporting those results were 9.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 rates, leading to strong underlying 4.02 FIP and 3.69 xFIP numbers. Garcia was indeed damaged by that home park, where he posted a 6.11 ERA compared to a 1.95 mark on the road, but he was fortunate to only have 6 appearances at home vs. 10 on the road.
If that were all Garcia had done in 2018 that would have been a very successful season, but Garcia was promoted to Double-A in early July, where he proved himself at a more neutral pitching environment, albeit at a higher level where he was on average about 0.4 years younger than league average. In 67 innings with Hartford, Garcia posted an outstanding 2.28 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP. His peripherals were a bit worse at the level (8.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 rates) but were still strong, though his 4.14 FIP indicates that Garcia was a little lucky to get the results he did with Hartford. In total, Garcia threw 167 professional innings across two levels in 2018, in which he had a 2.96 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9 rate. Those are the kinds of numbers that get you noticed as a player to incorporate into future plans.
There’s not much video out there on Garcia, but here’s a snippet from Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus from April 2018:
In their recently released Rockies top 10 prospects list, Baseball Prospectus didn’t list Garcia among the top tier but he did merit an honorable mention as number 15 on the list:
There is minimal projection left for Garcia, but he’s effective filling up the zone with three averageish offerings. The fastball sits low-90s (although he has flashed higher at times) and features some sink and run from his high-three-quarters slot. His slider is pinned around 80. While it lacks consistent shape, the best are solid-average with late, tight bite. The changeup is on the fringier side of average and is a clear third pitch. Garcia is a shorter, overaged righty, but the present stuff is good enough for a backend starter or swing projection, with a middle relief fallback if he finds more velo in shorter bursts.
His fastball sat around 90 mph when Garcia turned pro and since has climbed to a steady 92-94 with a high of 97. He uses both a four-seamer at the higher end of his velocity range and a two-seamer with cutting action in the low 90s. His curveball has depth and gives him a second solid pitch, and he shows the ability to land it for strikes or bury it in the dirt.
Garcia’s changeup has flashes of effectiveness but needs more consistency to help him deal with left-handers. He challenges hitters, works ahead in the count and uses a high three-quarters arm slot to overcome his height and provide downward angle. He has held up well as a starter but he might be more effective as a middle reliever whose stuff would kick up a notch in shorter stints.
The evaluation gives Garcia a 55 grade on his fastball and curveball with 50 grades on his changeup and control.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs didn’t rank Garcia in his May 2018 evaluation of the system, but he did provide a writeup of Garcia in August:
I’ve seen Rico Garcia sit 93-96 and touch 97 early in outings and then dip into the 90-94 range late. The baseball appears from behind Garcia’s head, which seems to disorient hitters, and Garcia’s vertical arm slot creates tough-to-square flat plane up in the zone. He’ll flash an above-average changeup and slider and shows an ability to manipulate the fastball to sink and cut at various times. I’ve considered him an elder middle-relief prospect, still an excellent outcome for a 30th rounder, but Garcia now has a 155:37 strikeout-to-walk ratio across High- and Double-A in 157 innings and is at least causing re-evaluation of how we have him projected.
Despite the disagreement between the three evaluations about the identity of Garcia’s secondary pitch (it’s a curveball, not a slider), the middle relief tag was consistent. The 25-year old has done quite well to go from a 30th round pick with a $1,000 signing bonus to a player who will be in strong contention for a 40 man roster slot after 2019, but the work is far from over.
Whether he starts back in Hartford or in Albuquerque in 2019, Garcia will join a crowd of pitching prospects fighting for those scarce slots. If things go well and the Rockies do intend to protect Garcia, he could even be a late 2019 call-up to the big club, though a 2020 debut is much more likely. The lack of pedigree was overcome by pure performance for me on my personal list, though I was more conservative than most of the electorate as I ranked Garcia 28th with a 35+ future value as a potential back-end starter or middle reliever.