2014 Phillies Report Card: Luis Garcia

There are 25 Luis Garcias on Wikipedia. I’m surprised there aren’t more. I wouldn’t mind talking about this one, who won the Champions League with Liverpool, a little more than the Phillies’ Luis Garcia, their minor-league pitcher of the year.

It’s not even remotely Garcia’s fault, but it’s impossible to discuss  him now without that context. You can talk about the small sample of Garcia’s major league career, how stupid good he was as Lehigh Valley’s closer last year, how plus-plus Longenhagen says his fastball is, and the extenuating circumstances surrounding the Phillies’ other top pitchers: Aaron Nola only turned pro in midseason, while Ken Giles got called up to the majors. Yoel Mecias was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and neither he nor Nefi Ogando pitched even close to as well as Garcia, despite facing lower-minors competition. Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin both hurt their shoulders, and Morgan’s re-learning how to throw hard, while Martin’s re-learning how to throw strikes. And I know I’ve said this before, but in case you were still unsure of how black the cloud surrounding the Phillies is right now, Jesse Biddle essentially lost a season to a chain of events that starting with him being hit on the head with a hailstone.

I’m so entirely aware of this–and you should be, too–and Garcia didn’t do anything except pitch very well in AAA in order to deserve this. And yet I can’t get over the fact that the Phillies’ reigning minor league pitcher of the year is a former barber who’s older than I am, who’s got a ceiling as a middle reliever even in a best-case scenario, and who’s walked more major league hitters than he’s struck out.

This is disturbing to a lot of people, not just me, and, like, I know it’s irrational and everything, and I’m sorry, because Garcia’s come a long way to achieve even the modest success he has, and he’s never done anything to me personally. But if you ascend the mountain of baseball to the altitude where tentpole starters and knockout relievers descend from the heavens, you’re going to step over the bones of more Luis Garcias than you can count. Garcia’s got a mid-90s fastball with movement and a slider with two-plane movement, the kind of pitch that doesn’t get hit often, and if it does, it gets hit into the ground. If it’s not closer stuff, it’s not far off, and Garcia’s AAA numbers (46 2/3 IP, 10.0 K/9, 0.92 ERA, 0 HR allowed) are a testament to that.

The problem with that is twofold: First, major league hitters are major league hitters because they can either hit stuff like Garcia’s, or know not to swing at it. Second, pitching is like real estate and where you put your hands when you’re trying to get his or her attention in that the most important thing is location. Garcia has a little bit of the Steve Dalkowskis to him, and to go back for a moment to Mt. Kershaw, pitchers are stranded and lost on its slopes by the tens of thousands, even though they have a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball, because they can’t throw strikes, or otherwise can’t put the ball where they want to.

Garcia, because he’s only recently returned to baseball, might have more development yet to come than his age suggests, but we should know better than to trust blindly in stuff, or to be surprised when stuff alone doesn’t vindicate the pitcher who possesses it. We just saw Hunter Strickland give up 156 home runs in five appearances this postseason. We as Phillies fans, having only recently lived through Phillippe Aumont, should know this better than most.

I’m all for giving Garcia a chance–he’s still learning how to pitch in the majors, and he’s only had about 45 innings to figure out how to do it. That he went from out of baseball to even as far as he’s come is, in fact, good news, and might portend good things for the Phillies’ farm system, rather than bad. Garcia, Ogando and Mecias represent a set of live arms that the Phillies got for nothing and might produce some value in the majors. I’m stealing this point from Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts, but the Phillies are on a run of developing young, raw pitchers under the radar, particularly low-profile Latin American kids, and turning them into legitimate prospects. Garcia’s a little too old to fit this profile exactly, but if you’re looking for a reason for him to make you feel good, rather than bad, about the farm system, that’s it.

I’m not at all sure how he makes me feel.

Grade: C

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