Reliever Zac Houston, our No. 30 Detroit Tigers prospect heading into 2019, is expected to start the year at Triple-A Toledo and make his MLB debut this season. Setbacks happen, of course, but after a dominant season at multiple minor league levels, Houston’s stock is rising quickly.
One could have written these exact words about righthander Bryan Garcia at this time last year. We basically did, in fact, but had to make a quick adjustment when Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery in February to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Garcia basically became a forgotten man in the meantime, as Houston and other Tigers prospects seemingly passed him in the pecking order.
While other sites may have dinged Garcia’s ranking slightly as he recovers from surgery, we have not. Garcia was viewed as a promising relief arm prior to his procedure and, based on early reports, is progressing well in his rehab. Assuming all goes to plan, he will get back on the mound in 2019 and work his way back up the minor league ranks. While we should not expect Garcia to see extensive time at the major league level, he could potentially earn a late call-up and re-establish himself as a part of the team’s future plans in their bullpen.
The Tigers selected Garcia out of Miami with their sixth round pick in the 2016 amateur draft. Garcia starred with the Hurricanes, earning All-America honors in two of his three years in Coral Gables. He was Miami’s all-time saves leader when he left school, and was the NCAA Stopper of the Year in his junior season after racking up an ACC-record 43 saves in his three years of action.
Garcia picked up right where he left off after signing his deal. He posted a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings with short-season Connecticut in 2016, striking out 21 batters to just three walks. He made a big move in 2017, pitching at four minor league levels before finishing the year at Triple-A Toledo. He was dominant in three of those stops, striking out 66 batters in just 41 2⁄3 innings from Single-A West Michigan to Double-A Erie.
Prior to his surgery, Garcia featured a high-octane fastball that reached as high as 98 miles per hour. Our friends at FanGraphs graded it as a plus offering, and his control helps the pitch play up a bit more. He attacks hitters aggressively with the pitch, and frequently gets ahead in the count. His control may suffer a bit early on after he returns to the mound, but as TigsTown mentioned, Garcia can get hitters out with quality sequencing and execution.
Garcia supplements his fastball with two above-average secondary pitches. His slider is the better of the two, and flashes plus at times. Like the fastball, it plays up due to his control, which is a nice change of pace relative to other hard-throwing Tigers relievers we’ve seen in the past.
Garcia’s changeup is a solid third pitch, and much better than many other relief arms you will see. FanGraphs also grades it as a potential plus pitch, but one that currently (well, as of 2017) sits a half-grade below the slider. The changeup even led multiple outlets to suggest that Garcia could transition into the starting rotation, both right after he was drafted and as recently as last spring. His surgery and subsequent rehab will probably change that — building him up to a starter’s workload would take a few years, as well as more all-around development — and Garcia might ultimately drop the changeup down the road, especially if he can’t quite get a feel for it when he gets back on the mound.
Picking out weaknesses for relievers can be a bit tough at times. Garcia has the requisite control that fails other power arms, but it may take him a bit of time to regain that aspect of his game as he continues to recover from surgery. There is also no guarantee that Garcia ever quite makes it back to his previous form, though the team’s current timetable — back on the mound in March, throwing in games in May — suggests that he has gotten past many of the larger hurdles in his way.
While Garcia has plenty in his tank in terms of velocity, he doesn’t have the true high-octane stuff that other late inning arms possess. He struggled to put away hitters when he reached Triple-A Toledo in 2017, and most reports suggest that his pitches “play up” due to his control. This is fine, but unless Garcia continues to hone his command and locates well, he may get hit a bit harder at higher levels. Big league hitters, in particular, can easily time a high-90s fastball if it isn’t placed where it needs to be. Given the command issues many pitchers have following Tommy John surgery, we may see a few rough outings here and there from the 23-year-old righty.
Projected 2019 team: Toledo Mud Hens
After having Tommy John surgery last spring, Garcia won’t quite be ready to throw off a mound at the beginning of spring training. He should start throwing bullpen sessions soon after, though, and is currently slated to return to competitive action in mid-May. He will make the usual slow ascent up the minor league ranks when he returns to game action, and likely settle in at Toledo at the end of his rehab assignment. Should things go well, we could potentially see Garcia make his MLB debut towards the end of the 2019 season. He will be Rule 5 eligible next offseason, and the Tigers may want to see him in major league action come September. Assuming he picks up where he left off in 2017, we could see Garcia competing for high-leverage innings at this time next year.
(h/t 2080 Baseball for the video)