The Venezuelan-native has been on the radar of the Yankees organization and its fans since he was signed for $1.35 million in 2014. Even with the myriad of young promising talent that came with that year’s international free agent class, Garcia was still ranked amongst the best of the bunch as a rangy shortstop with defensive tools beyond most 16-year-olds.
His play at the plate in 2015 provided only more reason to be excited. After only two games in the Dominican Summer League, Garcia was moved to the Gulf Coast League, where he combined for a .299/.414/.362 line in 39 games across both leagues in his first season. With his speed and a knack for getting on base – he had more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) and reached base in 35 games – the switch-hitter looked like a promising lead-off man with an acumen for defense.
Deserving of a promotion, Garcia found himself in Advanced Rookie affiliate Pulaski for the 2016 season. Having just turned 18 years old on April 1, he was one of the youngest hitters in the league – less than 20 batters who finished in the Appalachian League this year were 18 or younger.
Where he seemingly made improvement this season was in the field. Scouts see him as possessing a plus arm and above-average fielding, and while some have questioned his long-term staying power at the shortstop position, Garcia committed only one more error this season than he did last season, but played 14 more games. He was the mainstay at the position in Pulaski until later on in the year when the hot-hitting Oswaldo Cabrera was given a chance with the team already out of playoff contention.
But whether it was his youth or something else entirely, Garcia found plenty of struggles. With a miserable line of .198/.255/.284, he scarcely looked like the offensive threat he once did in the GCL, with 44 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 53 games. Consistency is a major problem in the minor leagues, but Garcia hardly had any good runs of offense from the start. Without the production in the batter’s box, he knows his season could have gone a lot better.
“It hasn’t been one of [my] best seasons, but [I’m] doing everything possible and [I’ve] learned a lot,” Garcia told PinstripesPlus with the help of a translator.
To the question of whether this was the season he was expecting of himself, he had simply one word.
No translation needed, and it says everything about a young player who has had few problems playing baseball against others up to this point.
But the Appalachian League is where many young players with potential meet their first pitfalls. It’s certainly not an uncommon theme in a Pulaski team filled to the brim with talent yet near the bottom of the standings. Count Garcia as one of the players who has had to adjust.
“To get accustomed to the approach and get used to these pitchers,” Garcia said of his toughest adjustment. “[My] approach and [my] game and the way [I] see everything, [I’m] trying to improve on that.”
And that is what the minor leagues are about. Numbers are great, but it’s the experience and daily improvement that end up mattering the most. If there is one manager who believes in that, it’s Pulaski’s Tony Franklin.
“Where he goes from here depends on the progress he made this year, which I think he made substantial progress in every area of the game,” Franklin said. “Now, the numbers don’t reflect that, but that’s not what we’re about, we’re about the daily progress and how far they’ve come from Spring Training. He made progress, and we’re pretty pleased with that.”
And if there’s one aspect of that progress Franklin is most pleased with, it’s Garcia’s defense.
“For a young shortstop, as one of our other instructors in the minor leagues [current defensive coach of the GCL Yankees 1] Lino Diaz says, he can play in traffic,” Franklin said with a laugh. “He’s got the unique ability as a young shortstop to kind of figure out where everybody needs to be and why they need to be there. He can see things coming which is a good trait for an infielder to have out there, or any player.
"A lot of people call that being a step ahead, and those things are a pretty good trait to have. Everybody doesn’t possess it, but he does. And I think that’s the one thing that’s going to allow him to continue playing this game. As an infielder, he’s got a step ahead of a lot of the guys and that’s gotta be one of the things I like most about him.”
His shortstop play clearly being a strength for now, the focus will mostly be on how Garcia improves on offense. Standing at 6’0 and 176 pounds, he has more than enough room to grow into his frame at only 18 years old. And Garcia did mention that strength and physical conditioning would be a focal point of his offseason this year. With an ever-improving defensive game and more time spent on his bat, Garcia has the chance to live up to the expectations put on him before he ever even signed with the Yankees, and Franklin likes the way his potential is looking.
“The tools are good right now,” said Franklin. “The tools are just potential, and potential’s a good thing but we have to realize the people in the big leagues are no slouches. They didn’t get to the big leagues by being slouches. They got to the big leagues for one reason and one reason only, and I tell these guys that the one thing they need to do is they gotta be good. That’s it. You gotta be good at what you do.”
Having been described as a player with a high work ethic, being a slouch doesn’t look to be a problem for Garcia. In the end, though, Franklin thinks he’ll end up wherever he’s supposed to.
“The game has a kind of way of filtering out the players and the non-players and guys end up at the level they’re supposed to go so I don’t think we’re concerned about how they did this year,” he explained. “I think we’re concerned about if they applied what they learned in the years going forward. And I sit here and tell you this every time, I wish I had a crystal ball to give you a better answer, but it’s not that scientific. We just have to see how they pan out.”
In the present, Garcia seems to have taken after his manager. Even though the numbers weren’t there this year, he still described his confidence as “a lot better” than when the season started. If progress is what matters most, the season will only help him in the long run, despite what it looks like on paper. Garcia feels he’s achieved that.
“[I] didn’t have a good start, but now that [I’ve] gotten some time in [I] feel [I’ve] made huge strides in [my] game. [I] feel [I’m] a better player," Garcia concluded.