Yankees: Is Deivi Garcia ready to pitch in the big leagues?


By the end of the 2019 season Yankees minor league pitcher Deivi Garcia emerged as the organization’s highest-rated prospect. While he has dominated the lower levels of the minors, Garcia’s ripe age of 20 and his struggles in Triple-A call in to question his readiness for anticipated big league action in 2020.

After signing with the Yankees as a fifteen-year-old in 2015 for a $200,000 signing bonus, Garcia rocketed to Double-A Trenton at the early age of nineteen. After making it all the way to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre last summer, Garcia believes in his MLB readiness. Despite remaining in Triple-A when rosters expanded to 40 last September, Garcia was added to the Yankees 40-man roster after the conclusion of the 2019 season. He remains the Yankees number one prospect.

Garcia’s high status within the organization should not mean that he should be rushed to the majors. The Yankees pitching depth is maybe the best we’ve seen in over 20 years. Especially considering the elimination of the expanded September roster, and barring major injuries within the staff, there won’t be much room for Garcia in 2020.

That being said, Garcia will also have to prove himself at the upper levels of the minors before the Yankees consider calling him up. Through 40 innings pitched in Triple-A, Garcia sports a FIP of 5.77, or if you prefer more traditional statistics, an ERA of 5.40.

After his last compelling stint in double-A, where Garcia earned a FIP of 2.20 (3.86 ERA) in 53.2 innings pitched and demonstrated immediate readiness for the next level, let’s examine what may have gone wrong for the young ace up in Scranton.

In Double-A, Garcia was a strikeout machine, racking up 14.59 strikeouts per nine innings. In other words, he struck out 37 percent of all the batters he faced. That figure dropped down to 25.3 percent in Triple-A, where Garcia’s strikeouts per nine innings rate went down to 10.13. Because Garcia’s walk rates remained static from Double-A to Triple-A, the changes in his performance can be best described by changes in his batted ball profile.

Where Garcia pitched to a ground ball percentage of 43 percent in double-A, that figure lowered to about 37.4 percent in Scranton. As his line drive rate remained constant, his fly ball rate increased dramatically from 35.1 percent to 41.1 percent. That might not seem like a huge increase, but the outcome is telling: Garcia allowed far more home runs per fly ball with Scranton than he did with the Thunder. In fact, that number rose from an astounding five percent in Double-A to a more worrisome 18.2 percent in Triple-A.

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The resulting uptick in home run rate (.34 to 1.80 per nine innings) explains the dramatic increase in FIP since FIP simply measures a pitcher’s control of home runs, strikeouts, and walks–outcomes that do not depend on defense.

So, what happens if Garcia improves? Let’s say he can log a hundred more innings, bringing his numbers back down to his brilliance with Trenton. At a certain point, it’s hard to question a player’s readiness. The Yankees would have to call him up. However, we’ve seen the Yankees wait out on calling up a prospect (like Clint Frazier) if their depth at the position is strong as it is now with pitching.

With Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton both reaching free agency after the 2020 season, it is much more important that Garcia is ready for 2021. There’s no rush so he should spend most of this season at Triple-A, adjusting to the better hitters.

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He should only be called up in the case of an emergency or if he dominates at Scranton and truly proves he’s ready for the big leagues. Hopefully, Garcia can find his groove with the Rail Riders this season.