The Future is Unwritten: Perci Garner

With my minor league season officially over (except for the Triple-A National Title game in Allentown on the 17th) I’m left with a car that’s been driven far too much these last two weeks, a body weary from all that driving and a mountain of notes that I now get to spend the next six months writing up here at Crashburn in all sorts of fun ways. I’d like to start that by telling you about Perci Garner, a player in the system that isn’t often mentioned but was really interesting to watch and could play a 2014 role on a big league club in desperate need of bullpen help.

Perci Garner was a second round pick out of Ball State in 2010. A two sport athlete for the Cardinals, Garner was the fourth string quarterback behind Nate Davis on a team coached by Brady Hoke. He threw one career pass which fell for an incompletion. It’s no shock that Garner set foot on a D-I football field as his remarkable physical presence lends itself to contact sports. Garner stands 6’3” tall and weighs in at 225lbs (though I suspect he might weigh a tad more) with an exceptionally unique body type and shape not just for baseball but for pro sports in general.  In my notes I always try to describe bodies not just with words but by doodling shapes or stick figures or just flat out comparing the player in question to another athlete with a similar build. The only physical comp I could come up with off the top of my head for Garner was Tim Tebow, though Garner has a more rotund look to his midsection. Glad I finally got to mention Tebow in an article. I’ve never felt more like I belonged to the ESPN family than I do right now. Tebow. But you get it, right? Perci Garner is a big, thick, athletic guy with huge thighs, a big ass and a neck circumference you’d need two tailors to measure.

I want to get this out of the way now before we talk about Garner’s stuff with more specificity: I think he’s a reliever. The control/command and stamina aren’t there for Garner to start and work through a lineup three or four times. His delivery isn’t all that repeatable, the arm comes through late and he lost a good amount of velocity and movement as his start progressed.

Just as I’d describe Perci Garner as “big and heavy,” so too would I describe his fastball as “big and heavy,” with emphasis on the latter. The heater sits 89-92mph and touched 93mph several times with good plane and serious armside run. As I stated above, Garner’s velo and movement waned as his pitch count climbed and Richmond hitters began to square him up. Even after a few late-inning scorchers, by my count Garner induced a freakish thirteen ground balls in five innings of work, several of which were hits that were likely to be turned into outs by MLB quality defenders. He surrendered what I judged to be five really well struck balls, three of which came in his final inning of work when his stuff clearly wasn’t as good. I’d love to see what a fastball that moves and sinks this much could do out of the bullpen when it would sit in the plus velo range rather comfortably and maybe even tick up a bit. It’s a 55 pitch at present and I put an optimistic future 65 on it for when he’s moved into the bullpen. Projecting a full grade’s worth of improvement for someone with absolutely zero physical development left is something I rarely do. When you factor in the plane and movement of the pitch, it was actually one of the better fastballs I’ve seen all summer.

Garner’s secondary stuff is okay but will flash better. His changeup sits 83-84mph with some action and armspeed similar to the fastball. It’s an average pitch at present and flashed better once or twice. Garner’s slider was also mostly an average offering in the 81-84mph range with two-plane movement. The ferocity of that movement varied, it was a plus slider at times. He showed us one curveball, a 76mph vertical jawn that had good depth but lacked bite. It’s possible that, if Garner were to be penned, his stuff might play up across the board. As for right now we’re looking at really interesting fastball complimented by average secondary stuff and hampered by poor command. If one of the secondary pitches takes a step forward to the point where it can get regular swings and misses then there’s really something here.

I’m normally one who preaches patience when it comes to relegating arms to the bullpen. Why then am I so quick to slot Garner into that bin? Well first off, the command and control of a starter aren’t there for me. Garner tends to run up high pitch counts in very few innings (it took him 120 pitches to get through 4.2 IP in his penultimate start for Reading) as a result of the deep, three-ball counts he constantly finds himself in. I wouldn’t want someone I’d almost certainly have to empty my bullpen for pitching every five days for my big league club. Garner has also had several injury issues since signing (his shoulder and his oblique twice). It’s one of the reasons he’s only gotten to Double-A at age 24. Penning him would mitigate some of that injury risk.

Garner is Rule 5 eligible this winter and while he still has lots to work on (poise on the mound and sequencing are two things he’s lacking in right now), it wouldn’t shock me if someone pulled the trigger on him were he to be left off the 40 man roster in November, especially if a team thinks they can work with him to improve his secondary stuff. The raw stuff isn’t there for Garner to become a late inning bullpen weapon, but he has a live arm, something the Phils system is pretty short on, and could be a useful bullpen piece if a few things improve.

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  1. BradInDC

    September 06, 2013 01:23 PM

    Interesting as always. With Garner, unless they are completely sold that he’s going on the 40-man, the club’s handling of him this year is perplexing. Knowing what seems to be obvious, that he won’t stick as a starter, and knowing there was a 40-man decision pending, it baffles me that they would not use him in the pen for at least a short period this year. Maybe they have faith in his 3-pitch mix coming around, but they didn’t challenge him with a promotion until 3 weeks ago…I don’t know. Hard to figure the big picture of their logic with this guy.

  2. Steve

    September 07, 2013 01:37 PM

    Eric, looking forward to a write up on Ethan Martin’s move to the bullpen. I know BB has been a major proponent of this move as am I but is their any chance we’ll see him used as a Tug McGraw type Reliever, someone who could be brought in the 6-7th inning and bring the game to the closer or close the game out himself from the 7th. With his stuff, he would be a wasted pitcher with just 60-80 inning, If he pitched every 2-4 days but was used for multiple innings just think of the flexibility he would provide to the team. A reliever that topped 110 innings, a revelation and return to the 70’s when the top relievers routinely topped 100 innings.

  3. Eric Longenhagen

    September 07, 2013 08:22 PM

    I think his role and the way he’s used has less to do with his talent and more to do with the Philosophy of the new manager and the organization. Evaluating Martin out of the bullpen in a whole new process. This isn’t stratomatic, so changes like this take time and may require periods of adjustment and discomfort.

  4. Bob

    September 07, 2013 09:00 PM

    I don’t understand why fringe starters are kept in a starter’s role. Why not convert to bp earlier? Wouldn’t these prospects whose ceiling is a 4-5 be better served as bullpen arms? Let them focus on that rather than keep them in a role where they’re doomed to fail.

  5. Eric Longenhagen

    September 07, 2013 09:15 PM

    It all depends on the guy. It’s not worth converting Tyler Cloyd or Drew Carpenter or guys like that. If you have good stuff but have a two pitch repertoire or lack stamina or have bad command…then I’m down.

  6. Bob

    September 08, 2013 07:41 PM

    But why not Cloyd or Carpenter? If they have no legitimate shot at making the bigs as a starter, could they ever be reliable set up men? Obviously, they must have some quality pitches to be fringe big leaguers. Wouldn’t they be better served in the bp?

  7. Eric Longenhagen

    September 08, 2013 08:48 PM

    First, let me say that you’re ignoring the need for organizational depth. You need guys to pitch when any of your first five starters get hurt. That’s what pitchers like Cloyd are for.

    The types of pitchers you’re referring to do not have the raw stuff to miss bats with regularity at the major league level. There are lots of guys that do. The guys that do but have one or two flaws that prevent them from starting are the guys who end up in major league bullpens.

    What about Cloyd or anyone else you think should be converted to a bullpen do you think qualifies them for a role at the back of a bullpen?

  8. Bob

    September 08, 2013 10:13 PM

    I was thinking more along the lines of the Phillies’ inability to develop bp pieces. It seems to me that a major problem is that the arms they have have a difficult time throwing strikes. With someone like Cloyd, he seems to be a little better than the rest at keeping his walk totals down.

    I think you can get organizational depth by means of over the hill free agents, whereas keeping younger pitchers in a role that will amount to a hill of beans seems odd to me.

    Obviously, I defer to your judgment. I catch a few Blue Rocks games a year, but my knowledge of the minor leagues is limited. I was just trying to understand why young arms seem relegated to fringe starter status.

  9. Steve

    September 09, 2013 06:23 AM

    Bob, the main reason Martin to the BP is interesting is he has killer stuff on 3-4 pitches and has shown the ability to mow down the teams on a 1st time through the order. If you didn’t see BB piece on the 26th, it is a good look at his numbers. It is a rare RP who has more than one killer pitch with a good secondary one and in this day and age we rarely see RP’s go more than one inning and very often 1 or 2 batters. Look at Baseball Reference, the top RP are in 70-80 games yet only have 60-70 IP. I find this a real waste of manpower but I’m just a fan and not a manager or GM. If Martin was found to have the ability to go 2IP every 2-3 days and be effective, think of the flexibility you have regarding your other BP pieces.

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