When the Orioles announced their 25-man roster for the 2015 season, one name in particular was a surprise to many. That would be Jason Garcia, a Rule 5 draft pick from Boston who had never pitched above single-A. Now that Garcia has made his big league debut, let's take a look at how he ended up in Baltimore and what he brings to the Orioles' bullpen.
Garcia's road to Baltimore
The Red Sox drafted Garcia as a starting pitcher out of high school in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. He pitched his first season of rookie ball at just age 17, pitching well enough in 8 starts to graduate to low-A in 2011, and he continued on to A-ball in 2012. He struggled in 2012, posting a 6.41 ERA in 115 innings, and remained in A-ball for 2013, where he pitched better but suffered an elbow injury after only nine games. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery, and did not return to game action until the final months of 2014.
After Tommy John, Garcia was a different pitcher. He was given shorter appearances because of his injury, and the result was a significant uptick in his velocity. Whereas before he was sitting in the low 90s, in 2014 he was regularly throwing 95+ and even hitting 97-98 at times. In Boston's fall instructional camp, he was hitting close to 100, and that was when the Orioles took notice.
Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs told an interesting story about how the O's ended up being confident enough to draft him: when Garcia was reportedly hitting close to 100 in instructs, he was pitching at a group of nearby facilities shared by four teams, and the Orioles were one of them. Because of that, they had a couple innings of film that almost nobody else had. The O's were impressed enough to want him in the Rule 5 draft, but fearing he may get grabbed by the Rays or Twins, the other two teams who shared that camp, they worked out a trade with Houston to take him with their 4th overall pick.
Besides the aforementioned fastball, Garcia was reported as having a slider with plus potential, as well as a changeup that he occasionally throws to lefties. In two appearances thus far, one in Tampa and one in the home opener against Toronto, PITCHf/x has him throwing a four-seam fastball (39 times), a slider (15 times), a cutter (10 times), and a two-seamer (3 times). Here's his pitch chart so far, courtesy of Fangraphs:
Based on this, I'm not yet convinced that the two fastballs and the cutter are all actually different pitches. They may be, but I've never seen a cutter mentioned in any reference to Garcia, and until there's more data I'll be considering all of those pitches to just be "fastballs".
Garcia's fastball has averaged just under 93 MPH so far, topping out at 95.4 MPH. Not exactly 98-100 like the scouting reports said, but don't count that out after two appearances. It's early in the season, and his focus at this point may be on command rather than dialing the fastball all the way up. Even without touching his reported velocity from last year, he's still throwing some heat at 93-95 with some good left-to-right run as well. Meanwhile, the slider has averaged 84 MPH, topping out at 86, and while it doesn't have a ton of right-to-left break, it's a good contrast from the movement on his fastball. We haven't yet seen the changeup to lefties that McDaniel mentioned in his article, but he's only faced five left-handed batters so far, so it's possible that he just hasn't had a chance to throw it yet.
One positive worth noting is that his release point has looked consistent from pitch to pitch. We're only talking about 70 pitches so far, but it certainly doesn't look like his delivery is going to be tipping batters off to his slider. Here's that chart, again courtesy of Fangraphs. It would be nice to see a few changeups on here, but so far so good:
In two outings, Garcia has allowed one earned run over 3 2/3 innings pitched. He has walked 3 batters and allowed 2 hits, while striking out two. He's struggled with his command considerably, as you would expect from a young hard-throwing pitcher that hasn't made it above single-A, but he's also thrown some nice pitches. While he shouldn't be trusted in the 8th inning of a tie game quite yet, he also hasn't been a complete disaster, and that's all that should be expected of him in 2015.
The 2012 Orioles made the playoffs with Kevin Gregg and Luis Ayala pitching a considerable number of bullpen innings. In 2014, Ryan Webb and Evan Meek did the same, with the likes of Preston Guilmet and Josh Stinson chipping in as well. The 2015 Orioles don't need Jason Garcia to be Andrew Miller; they just need him to be able to absorb the same low-leverage innings these guys did, and to not completely implode while doing so. If he can do that, and develop his command a little along the way, the Birds just might be able to carry him for the full season and keep him out of Boston's hands for good.
We don't know yet if Jason Garcia can be a key bullpen arm for Baltimore in 2016 or beyond. What we do know is he's an intriguing arm that has a chance to get there. The good news for O's fans is that if he does turn into something special, there's a good chance it'll be in an Orioles uniform.