Part of the Yankees’ roughly $30 million spending spree during the 2014 international free agent period, Garcia signed on for $3.2 million of that sum. Baseball America rated him as a top-10 prospect of that international free agent pool, while MLB.com ranked him as the best in the class.
The operative word for Garcia is “power”; the Dominican Republic-native was consistently rated as having the most powerful bat of his international peers before the signing period. Talk to his coaches at Advanced Rookie affiliate Pulaski, and you will hear that word a lot.
“When you watch him during batting practice you can definitely see power, and who doesn’t like to see the baseball go out of the ballpark?” Pulaski manager Tony Franklin said, "that’ll catch your attention real fast. We hope he’s going to be able to do that in-game. The power sticks out like a sore thumb.”
“I love him, man,” said Pulaski hitting coach Kevin Mahoney. “He’s a big strong kid and he impacts the baseball really well. He’s learning every day and he comes to work every day, and there’s really nothing not to like about that kid.
"He’s a really young player who has the desire to learn and the ability to hit balls harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s young and he’s learning, but when you see him swing his bat and the way he goes about his business, it’s exciting.”
That potential hasn’t entirely translated onto the field yet. Garcia hit for .159/.256/.188 in his debut season and failed to hit any home runs in 69 at-bats last year. His numbers have improved early in 2016, however, hitting .219 with five home runs through ten games, but his coaches feel he can do even better.
“With the type of attitude he brings every day, I know he’s had a slow start but I don’t think he’s going to have a bad year for us,” predicted Mahoney. “He’s got the ability to hit the ball and hit the ball hard to all areas of the field and he can drive runners in and hit the ball out of the park for us, almost at will with the kind of strength he has. I think with the skills he has and the experience and the way he goes about his business, he’s going to be just fine.”
“He’s doing okay,” Franklin said. “He’s not overmatched by any means. He’s competing pretty good and a lot of times numbers don’t reflect that. Sometimes we put a little too much stock into those numbers at this level.
"With a young player every day you see the changes in his play and the changes for the better and for that reason you feel pretty good about where he is. Hopefully, by the end of the season, he’ll put everything together and start playing more consistently.”
Standing at 6’2, and bulking up from 185 pounds at signing to 200 thee days, Garcia has made the switch from shortstop to third base. His defensive game isn’t all there yet, but progress is being made.
“Defensively, he’s done pretty good,” Franklin said. “He’s displayed a really good throwing arm and ability to catch the ball. He’s going to make physical mistakes, errors and throwing errors. But we hope all those things come together.”
“From last year to this year, the improvement he’s made is just unbelievable,” said Mahoney, who was drafted as a third baseman and played some of the biest third base for for the Yankees organization from 2009 to 2013. “He’s more flexible, his arm is just an absolute hose.
"I’m excited to see what he has done to change his game defensively. There’s still a lot of work for him to do, in all aspects of the game, but the changes and advancements he’s made at that position have been pretty good so far.”
With the mammoth power he displays it's tough to remember Garcia is still just 18 years old and just like any teenager there are still many adjustments needed to be made. The coaching staff does have some ideas on what he can work on.
“We’d like him to become a little more consistent in determining which pitches are strikes and which are balls," Franklin said, "try not to swing at any out of the zone and try to swing more in the zone, and make consistent contact with the ball."
“He needs to learn to fail and come back and make adjustments during the game, which he’s shown he can do,” Mahoney added. “But really just the experience of pitchers and being pitched differently and not the way he’s used to getting pitched, and learning how to handle that.”
Garcia’s offseason preparation included agility work and strength training, especially for his lower body. His first season last year in the Gulf Coast League helped him recognize what he wanted to improve on, on and off the field.
“[I] learned a lot on the field and about the position itself, as a third baseman and learning about different situations, as well as on the hitting side,” Garcia told PinstripesPlus with the help of a translator. “[I] had to learn how to see and recognize pitches.
“[I’ve learned] three things: being a good teammate, being a good team player - doing whatever the team needs [me] to win - and to be strong mentally on the field. Like whatever happens, just turn the page.”
Garcia missed around three months last year with a back injury so coming out strong in 2016 is important to him.
“[I feel] like this year is going to be a better year. [I] had the time to work on [my] strength and total body. [I] feel better and healthy," Garcia said.
With the pressures of being a highly-touted Yankees prospect along with the work needed to improve his game, Garcia must also manage the transition culturally from the Dominican Republic to the United States, a challenge common to many Latin American players at this level of baseball.
“There’s two big things to get used to. One is the American food – it just doesn’t taste the same,” Garcia said with a laugh. “The other is the language, that’s something [I] want to improve.”
Fortunately, Garcia isn’t alone in this transition. The Pulaski roster sports eight other players born in the Dominican Republic, including Andy Diaz and Wilkerman Garcia, who were also part of the Yankees’ 2014 international free agent class.
“It helps because they’re good teammates,” Garcia said.
Manager Franklin is used to players at this level who can’t speak English, and was asked if it affects his coaching of Garcia.
“Not at all,” he claimed. “We have enough guys here that are bilingual. I understand a lot of it, I don’t speak a lot of it. But we get our message across and that’s really important. One of the biggest aspects of teaching a young Spanish-speaking player who doesn’t speak English is making sure that they understand the message you’re trying to get across.
“It’s very easy for us to say something in English and for them to nod their head ‘yes’ and walk away with the feeling wondering if they got the message or not,” Franklin continued. “That’s not what we’re trying to do.
"We make sure they understand everything we talk about in terms of baseball, and not just baseball, but everything. Everything is connected in terms of your success in life and baseball. As a matter of fact, the Spanish-speaking kids are going to English classes so they’re developing their English speaking skills as well, so that too is a major point in the growth of his game.”
Add this all together, and expectations are still high for Garcia. He has earned praise for his work ethic and said he was eager to finish the season strong. The organization and his current coaching staff are excited about Garcia, even with different approaches to their own expectations of him.
“[I expect] everything,” Franklin said. “The same thing I expect from all the guys. Because who’s to say you can’t play in the big leagues when you’re 18 or 19 years old if you’re good enough? If they can put everything together they can. It’s a little far-fetched you’d think because they need to gain the experience, but I just expect them to get better at every aspect and to leave here having gotten better at hitting and catching and fielding and that they’re feeling pretty good about their games.”
“It’s tough to expect a lot out of anyone really,” Mahoney admitted. “But I do expect that he’s going to come grind it out with me every day, and I expect he’s going to carry himself in a professional manner. I expect him to have a lot of fun.”