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2018 BYB Tigers prospect #23: RHP Bryan Garcia's future is suddenly uncertain

Garcia’s stock was rising quickly, but an elbow injury might derail his 2018 season.

Detroit Tigers Workout Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Hard-throwing righthanders are relatively easy to come by in the Detroit Tigers' farm system. However, their recent success rate hasn’t been all that great. The biggest flop of them all is Bruce Rondon, who recently signed with the Chicago White Sox. Remember the buzz around Joe Jimenez last winter? He would have rated highly on our 2018 list if he were still rookie eligible.

While we haven’t moved on from Jimenez yet, Bryan Garcia has been viewed by many as the ‘next big thing’ after his quick rise up the minor league ladder in 2017. While hyping him as much as Jimenez is a bit aggressive, Garcia seemed like a good bet to contribute to the major league team until last week, when the news broke that he may need to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Background

The University of Miami's all-time saves leader, Garcia posted fantastic numbers against college hitters out of the the ‘Canes bullpen. He pitched to the tune of a 1.89 ERA over 38 innings, racking up a ridiculous 13.03 strikeouts per nine innings. Despite a few issues with his control — he walked 18 batters in those 38 frames — he earned the 2016 Stopper of the Year Award from the NCBWA.

Garcia’s pro debut was solid after being drafted in 2016, but it paled in comparison to what he was able to do in 2017. Detailed in an article back in August, Garcia obliterated the minor leagues. It took three promotions and appearances all across the minors before he was finally presented with a challenge in Triple-A. All told, he finished the season with a 2.13 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 55 innings.

Strengths

The best pitch that Garcia has to offer is his fastball. It draws plus grades from scouts, and he is able to hit the mid-90s with regularity. He is able to throw the offering for strikes, which is encouraging. He also shows batters a slider that some outlets claim flashes plus.

The biggest surprise addition to his profile is a decent changeup. I assumed that, as a college reliever, Garcia's final pitch would merely nominal. The Baseball Draft Report noted that "a pro contact who saw him this summer came away far more impressed with his changeup than I would have guessed."

John Sickels of SB Nation's Minor League Ball also was pleased with how Garcia's arsenal rounded out, stating that between the Tigers' top prospects, he has one of the better changeups. Both sources also noted that some would have like to see him tried as a starter, presumably because of his high strikeout rate and trio of viable pitches.

Arguably the biggest point in Garcia's favor is his proximity to majors. He was always a high-floor prospect and he has shown the ability to compete with some of the top players in affiliated ball. Despite a few lingering problems, seeing time in Triple-A only one year removed from draft day is impressive and puts him on a trajectory that sees him in the majors very soon.

Weaknesses

The biggest thing that stands in Garcia's way on the field is his command. He isn't as wild as some — like Jairo Labourt, for instance — but he could stand to cut down on walks. It wasn't much of a problem until he hit Triple-A, but when he did, his walk rate soared and his numbers suffered. He went from striking out over 11 betters per nine innings in Double-A to only 8.10 in Triple-A. His walk rate also soared, with his mark of 5.40 batter per nine innings a drastic increase over what he managed at lower levels.

The biggest cause for concern is the high likelihood that Garcia will undergo Tommy John Surgery in the incoming weeks. This procedure would likely push the timetable on Garcia's return out to mid-2019. The Tigers likely wouldn’t rush him that year either, so seeing him in the majors before 2020 would be a surprise.

Projected Team: extended spring training in Lakeland

We’re still not sure what will come of Garcia’s visit to see Dr. James Andrews, but even heading down to Alabama in the first place isn’t a good sign. Whether Garcia goes under the knife or not, he probably won’t be doing much pitching in 2018. If he avoids surgery, he will likely spend most of the year rehabbing before throwing some low-pressure innings in the lower minors to close out the season.

Video h/t Emily Waldon, The Athletic