The key to being a solid pitching prospect? Pitching well and staying healthy. 24-year-old right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia was doing a fine job in both regards during his rise through the minors. He was on the fast track to a major league relief role until Tommy John Surgery ended his 2018 season before it ever began.
Garcia persevered through this injury and returned in 2019 with his stuff and velocity relatively intact. He made 45 appearances across multiple levels and even made his major-league debut this past September. While even high quality relief prospects flame out regularly, the fact that Garcia has returned from surgery and progressed to the major leagues in one season is an encouraging sign.
The first step back from UCL reconstruction surgery is simply to return to work and recapture stuff and velocity. Garcia successfully accomplished that goal this season. If he continues to stay healthy and can sharpen his tools just a little bit, he’ll bring some much-needed help to the Tigers bullpen in 2020.
Bryan Garcia was the Tigers’ sixth-round pick out of the University of Miami in the 2016 amateur draft. In three years with the Hurricanes, he was a two-time All-American, won a NCAA Stopper of the Year in his junior season. He also became the all-time saves leader for his alma mater. The moment he was drafted, Garcia was considered a quality bullpen prospect with a higher floor than most due to the fact that he had three solid offerings and reasonably solid control.
In 2017, Garcia successfully ran through four minor league levels before finishing the year at Triple-A Toledo. In his first three stops on that wild ride, he struck out 66 batters in just 41 2/3 innings between Single-A West Michigan, High-A Lakeland, and Double-A Erie.
Garcia missed 2018 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, but returned in 2019 and struck out 54 batters in 44 innings between High-A Lakeland, Double-A Erie, and Triple-A Toledo. His command wasn’t fully recovered, but by late in the year things starting coming together, and it was enough to earn his major league debut in September.
If you’ve kept track of Garcia throughout his time in the Tigers’ minor-league system, you already know that his fastball once topped out at 98 miles per hour. After watching his 2019 season, it’s clear that Garcia is still a tick or two short of his former maximum velocity. Recapturing his best fastball is going to be a key for him this season, but he retains a pair of solid secondaries to fall back on as well.
A dive into Garcia’s Trackman data from June 5 to July 4 at the Triple-A level (aggregated by fellow Bless You Boys contributor Adam Dubbin) reveals his quickest pitch in that timespan came in at just a fuzz under 96 miles per hour. His average in that stretch was 93.6 mph. Although we have just a 6 2⁄3 innings major-league sample size for Garcia, he averaged 94.2 miles per hour on his fastball in September per Statcast, with a maximum of 95.9.
Typically it takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months for a pitcher to fully come back from UCL surgery, so the signs are still pointing in the right direction. Getting that little bit of extra heat back on his fastball would help him take the next step. Without it, Garcia’s fastball is closer to average than to plus and will likely limit his ceiling in the majors.
Garcia packs two secondary pitches that show above-average potential in his slider and his changeup. A big fastball was always billed as the anchor of his arsenal, but he revealed in an interview with Chris Brown of Tigers Minor League Report that post-surgery, it wasn’t necessarily the pitch that had his confidence this summer. “Right now, man, I’m really comfortable with my changeup,” said Garcia. “I don’t [ever] see a reason why I can’t throw it.”
Before he went under the knife, Garcia’s firm slider at 86-87 mph flashed plus but was still inconsistent and we saw the same thing in 2019. The potential is still obvious when he’s got a good feel for it, and it takes time to get all the way back from surgery. It’s been almost two years since the procedure at this point, so we’ll likely see Garcia’s stuff take on its final form in 2020.
Overall, it’s a well-rounded, if not eye-popping, repertoire, and if Garcia can put it together, the Tigers should have themselves a solid setup man. The hope is that with a season under his belt since the surgery, Garcia is a little bit sharper this year and the club quickly has itself a pretty good relief pitcher.
The biggest worry with Garcia entering last season was his control as he returned from surgery. After walking 22 batters in 55 innings in 2017, Garcia walked 21 batters in 48 innings in 2019. That’s a slightly higher walk percentage, sure, but that mainly comes from Garcia walking five hitters in his 6 2⁄3 innings against major-league hitting in Detroit. He throws strikes and overall located the ball pretty well for his first season back after UCL reconstruction.
As Rob mentioned in his write-up last year, however, Garcia didn’t possess “true high-octane stuff” before Tommy John surgery, and now he has lost a bit of velocity off his two-seam fastball. He’s a decent bet to get that max fastball back, but Garcia is going to need to command all three pitches reasonably well to put away major-league hitters.
His changeup has progressed more than anticipated on draft day, but it could still stand to improve. It has good life but is too firm; there’s not enough velocity separation from the fastball when Garcia is sitting 93-94 mph rather than 95-97. If he’s able to find a way to lose some of the velocity on the offering without sacrificing his armspeed, which is vital when throwing a change, that would go a long way toward avoiding barrels on both offerings. Even better, recapturing that last bit of velocity on his fastball would help it play up to its full potential.
Finally, as a reliever, there is a hard cap on the future value Garcia could provide to the Tigers organization. Outside of the game’s most elite closers, relievers are mostly transient figures whose contributions can’t match the value of even back end starting pitchers. However, as one of the vanguards in Detroit’s surge of young pitching, he has a good opportunity to stake out a permanent roster spot this season. And if his stuff rebounds a little more there’s a decent chance the Tigers have themselves a good relief pitcher for years to come.
Projected 2020 team: Detroit Tigers
FanGraphs projects Garcia to be the fourth-most used option in the Tigers bullpen in 2020, behind Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, and Jose Cisnero. This will be Garcia’s final appearance on our top-30 list, as he will almost certainly graduate from prospect status this year. Hopefully, he can settle in as a solid middle-relief option in 2020 and refine his command as the season progresses. There are going to be plenty of chances for him to seize a regular role in the Tigers bullpen this season and Garcia is a good bet to prove up to the task.