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2020 BYB Tigers prospect #23: RHP Rony Garcia gives the Tigers a chance to experiment in 2020

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Garcia has come up through the minors as a starter, but could move around the bullpen in the majors this year.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Detroit Tigers Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Having the worst record in baseball is never a great idea, but it comes with a few perks. One of them, albeit limited, is the first selection in the Rule 5 draft. The Detroit Tigers have had that honor in two of the past three offseasons now, and used their most recent Rule 5 selection on righthander Rony Garcia from the New York Yankees.

While Rule 5 picks are generally little more than a shot in the dark, the Tigers have done well with their selections in recent years. Lefthanders Daniel Stumpf and Kyle Lobstein combined for nearly 1.0 WAR across 208 innings in a Tigers uniform (most of that from Stumpf, oddly), while Victor Reyes played at roughly a 3.0 WAR pace in limited action last season. These are small victories, to be sure, but still better than your average Rule 5 selection.

Garcia is a bit more interesting than some of Detroit’s previous picks. He is a bit younger than usual, at just 22 years old, and seems to have taken a big step forward over the past year. He will likely move to the bullpen, especially given his roster status for 2020, but that very small chance to stick in a starter-like role pushes him just ahead of the last two pure relievers on our list. With the Tigers’ pitching staff potentially in flux as the season rolls along, we could see Garcia moved around a bit throughout the year.

Background

Garcia was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in July 2015. He made his stateside debut the next summer, posting a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings with one of New York’s Gulf Coast League affiliates. The Yankees promoted him aggressively in 2017, and gave him 11 starts with their Single-A affiliate late in the year. He put up a 2.24 ERA with low walk and home run rates against advanced competition, then improved his strikeout rate when he repeated the Sally League the next spring. His ERA and walk rate both increased when he was promoted to High-A in summer 2018, but he struck out 45 hitters in 48 innings.

Last year brought more of the same for Garcia. He started the season at High-A Tampa, and produced a 2.45 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 18 13 innings before he was promoted to Double-A. The aggressive promotion didn’t help his ERA, which jumped to 4.66 in seven starts before he was sent back to Tampa for a single outing in June. Though Garcia lost seven of his next eight starts after returning to Double-A later that month, he lowered his ERA and struck out 70 hitters in his final 68 23 innings. He was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week twice, and closed out the year with a BABIP-aided 3.73 ERA in his last six starts.

Strengths

Like most young pitchers these days, Garcia’s best weapon is currently his fastball. He has added velocity as he has matured throughout his professional career, and sat at a comfortable 93-94 miles per hour throughout the 2019 season. Baseball America noted that Garcia was able to touch 96-97 mph at times, which speaks well to his potential of sticking in the Tigers’ bullpen. MLB Pipeline mentioned that, while Garcia hasn’t quite been able to maintain that velocity during starts, he has the build — he stands 6’3 and is listed at 200 pounds — to hopefully withstand a starter’s workload.

Between the added velocity and an above-average spin rate on his fastball, Garcia could be a real weapon for the Tigers out of the bullpen. This is especially so if the Tigers find a way to tweak his delivery. As FanGraphs pointed out, Garcia has the spin, but might need to adjust his release point.

He sits 91-94 and touches 95 with pretty significant fastball spin for that velo range — about 2400 rpm on average — but because Garcia has a lower arm slot, the pitch doesn’t have the kind of lift that would miss bats. The arm slot and Garcia’s above-average, two-plane breaking ball make him especially tough on righties, who he held to a .197/.273/.356 line in 2019.

Garcia’s cutter, a new pitch he just started to feature in 2019, has drawn a lot of praise since the Rule 5 draft. Jay mentioned it in his breakdown of Garcia back in December, as it seems to be a newfound weapon that is giving hitters fits. Scouts have also liked his breaking ball, an above-average pitch with two-plane break that generates some swings and misses. The progression of that breaking ball — somewhat of a slurve that sits in the low 80s — seems to be the reason for his uptick in strikeouts over the past couple years. Honing either of those offerings should give Garcia enough to get outs late in games (especially if his fastball takes a step forward), while improving both could still give him an outside chance to start.

Weaknesses

The biggest weakness in Garcia’s game is a below-average changeup, one that every outlet says will need to improve if Garcia is to remain a starter. Baseball America hedged by saying that the changeup is “effective because he maintains arm speed and it has fade and sink,” but it is not yet consistent enough to be much of an asset against major league competition. Our friends at 2080 Baseball were in agreement, noting that Garcia’s change “Flashes late, sharp action that hints pitch could be developed.” However, it’s not there yet. MLB Pipeline, who has Garcia ranked 21st in the Tigers organization right now, gave it a decidedly below average (40) grade, and just about everyone has pointed out that there is not much velocity separation from his fastball.

From there, Garcia’s shortcomings are mostly half-measures. He throws strikes, but his walk rate has climbed as he has faced more advanced competition. His control is decent, but he struggles against left-handed hitters. MLB Pipeline identified a few more “yeah, but...” attributes in their write-up.

Garcia doesn’t have the cleanest or most efficient delivery, but he did do a better job of repeating his mechanics in his first Double-A campaign. And while Garcia’s quick, three-quarters arm action gives him some natural deception, it does lead to some syncing issues between his upper and lower half. Garcia has a chance to start, but he’ll need to further refine his delivery, improve his control and figure out how to be effective against left-handed hitters.

Given all of the things that need to go right for Garcia to truly stick in a major league rotation, it’s best to project him as more of a reliever. This will help limit his shortcomings — left-handed hitters, facing a lineup multiple times, maintaining velocity, you name it — but also limits his overall value.

Projected team: Detroit Tigers

Well, this one is easy. As the Tigers’ Rule 5 draft pick in 2019, Garcia has to remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season, or risk being returned to the Yankees. The Tigers have not been shy about dumping their Rule 5 bullpen arms in the past, so Garcia’s spot is not set in stone, but shy of a trade, he won’t be heading to the minors at any point.

The more interesting question is not where he will be, but rather how he will be used. This was more of a debate before the Tigers signed Ivan Nova, but Garcia could potentially be used in a starter-ish role, similar to how Daniel Norris and Drew VerHagen were piggybacked at the end of 2019 (pairing him with Tyler Alexander seems interesting, at first glance). Garcia will likely begin the season as a traditional middle relief arm, but as the roster changes throughout the year, it would be nice to see the Tigers expand his role if he is pitching well.