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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.