A Surprise Pitching Prospect Emerges in West Virginia

Typically a relief pitcher in Low-A ball isn’t going to be a prospect. That is also usually the case when said relief pitcher is 22 years old. The average age for pitchers at that level is 22, and most of the prospects are going to be younger than that. So if you’ve got a person who is 22 and isn’t even in the rotation, it’s a good bet he’s going to be an organizational filler.

There are exceptions, and I got a chance to see one of those exceptions in West Virginia two weeks ago. I was looking forward to getting my first good look at Jose Regalado, who was the starter for the Power on this given night, and who came into the start posting good numbers on the season. I wasn’t overly impressed with Regalado, although I was pleasantly surprised by the next pitcher on the mound.

Yeudy Garcia was signed at a late age. Most players out of the Dominican Republic sign at the ages of 16-18. If a guy is signing at the age of 20, the odds of him being an actual prospect are low. Garcia signed at 20, and started his career at the age of 21 in the DSL. He put up good numbers as a starter, but they came with the disclaimer that he was much older and more mature than everyone else at the level.

Then the Pirates made a surprising move, jumping him over three levels and putting him in West Virginia this year. That kind of move for a player could either mean one of two things. It could mean that the player is very advanced, or it could mean that the organization doesn’t consider him a prospect.

Heading into that West Virginia series, the odds didn’t look to be in Garcia’s favor. He was 22, pitching out of the bullpen, and just skipped over all of the short-season levels in his jump to the US. It was possible that he would be the exception to all of these rules, but the more likely scenario was that he wasn’t a prospect.

Garcia turned out to be the exception.

When I saw him on May 8th, he threw four innings, giving up an unearned run on a hit and two walks, while striking out four. He was 93-96 MPH with his fastball, sitting mostly around 95, showing an easy delivery and getting that velocity with no effort at all. I received reports that he has hit 97 this year. One scout who had been watching the team for a few days said that Garcia was their best pitcher, and this was after seeing John Sever and Austin Coley.

West Virginia pitching coach Mark DiFelice confirmed that Garcia is a priority arm in the organization, and that they have plans for him.

“He’s fun to watch,” DiFelice said. “He pitches to the Pirates philosophy of pitching. Pounding your fastball in. He’s really developed his slider, especially to right-handed hitters, and he’s really starting to develop his changeup to the lefties as well. So when you have that movement going away from righties and away from lefties, and being able to convict your fastball, you’re going to be able to have success.”

After the outing I saw, Garcia moved into the rotation. He has since made two starts, giving up just two unearned runs on five hits in 9.2 innings, with a 7:2 K/BB ratio. The impressive thing is that he is doing most of this with just his fastball. On the season he has a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings, with a 30:7 K/BB ratio.

Most pitchers at this level are working on improving their fastball command. Garcia has strong command of the pitch, and instead is putting more of a focus on the off-speed stuff.

“That’s been something that the third floor higher-ups in our organization said ‘go ahead and get that developed,'” DiFelice said on improving the off-speed stuff at this level. “Trying to pick moments in the ballgames is basically, where he feels he should throw those pitches, we’re going to let him dictate that on his own.”

The Pirates have let Garcia go on his own with this. The night I saw him, he threw off-speed on 21 of 60 pitches. DiFelice said they typically want him working 80% fastball at this level, but that he was working on a few things with the other pitches. The main focus from a coaching perspective has been working on keeping his mechanics in check, mostly making sure that he has a smooth leg lift in his delivery. Other than that, Garcia looks very advanced for someone who just received an aggressive push.

As you might expect, that push also comes with the side effect that Garcia doesn’t know English. Typically the Pirates will send first year DSL guys to the GCL, where they can learn English in the classrooms at Pirate City, continuing the classes they take in the DSL. Despite missing out on this, Garcia has been eager to learn the language.

“For somebody that doesn’t know English that well, he’s done an excellent job of just a positive attitude, and really taking in everything,” Garcia said. “There are some players on the team that help him out with the English to Spanish translation. He’s done a great job.”

At this point, it’s hard to put a projection on Garcia. He’s got a plus fastball, and good command of the pitch. But he will need to be tested at the upper levels, and will need to develop his secondary stuff before it can be determined if he can eventually stick as a starter, or make it as a reliever. One thing is now pretty clear: he is definitely a prospect.

  • About freaking time the club found something loosely resembling a Latin American pitching prospect. I hear there are some that are OK at baseball these days.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      May 22, 2015 9:45 am

      good point NMR – when was the last time the Pirates system signed and produced a Latin American pitcher who made it to the majors for more than just a cup of coffee?

    • I’ll have you know that Diego Moreno helped get us AJ Burnett. You’ve clearly forgotten about him.

      • Haha, touche.

        • NMR, Tim, John, anyone – why do you suppose the Pirates have had decent success (at least prospect wise) with the batters and almost no success with Latin American pitchers? Are they signing more hitters? Do typically more hitters come from Latin America than pitchers? I never wondered about this before today.

          • Lack of effort, namely. They simply do not seem interested in the LA pitching market, for whatever reason.

            I’ve asked Tim and John for the “why” before and neither of them seemed to have a reason.

  • Tim: Another who routinely hits 95+ and has done well lately in Lo A is Dovydas Neverauskas, making a switch from SP to RP/SP. In his last 3 times out he pitched 13 innings, 7 H, 2 ER, 11K/2W, and his GO/AO was a combined 22/9. Just turned 22 and signed for $60K as an Int FA.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 21, 2015 9:35 pm

    Sounds promising – we need guys like Garcia to make up for the higher end prospect pitchers who flamed out, like ZVR.

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