One of the weirder things about the 2015 Orioles was their strange fascination with going out of their way to keep Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia on the roster. They buried him deep at the bottom of the bullpen depth chart and stashed him on the disabled list for the exact number of days that would still allow them to keep him, all so they could option him to their minor leagues this year.
For Garcia, it’s sure been a strange journey. Low-A with the Red Sox in 2014, MLB with the Orioles in 2015, and then in 2016, a full season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox. There, he pitched in the starting rotation over the whole season, ending up with a 4.73 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP across 123.2 innings over 24 starts.
You might have forgotten about him down there. With numbers like that, he sure didn’t do much to force himself to the attention of either the big league club or Orioles fans. Garcia didn’t even rack up all that many strikeouts, just 71 over those innings, which was what made him interesting before.
Looking at Garcia’s stat line, which includes batters hitting .291 against him for the season and walks issued to just shy of 10% of the batters he faced, leaves little doubt about how this season went: Not good. But if you dig a little deeper, maybe there’s some hope for him going forward.
In and of itself, it’s not very good that Garcia gave up 137 hits. Yet it’s a good thing that he only surrendered five home runs in all of those innings. If he was pitching like complete crap, you’d expect that he would have gotten shelled a whole lot worse than that. Consider that Wade Miley has already allowed six home runs in just 39.1 innings as an Oriole.
What that adds up to is that hitters off Garcia hit .333 on balls put in play (BABIP). That’s an eye-popping high number that might just be reflective of Bowie not having much talent on its team, either offensively or defensively. We would have had to spend the year watching Bowie to really know.
And to get the complete picture, you would have had to follow him both at home and on the road, because for Garcia it was a tale of two seasons. In the 13 starts Garcia made at Bowie, he had only a 2.84 ERA while holding batters to a .240 average. In his 11 road starts, those numbers ballooned: a 7.17 ERA with batters hitting .348 against him.
That’s a heck of a contrast. You find the same when you look between his splits in day games and in night games. At night, Garcia made 17 starts with a 3.83 ERA. In seven day starts, he had a 7.08 ERA, with batters hitting .364 and a WHIP over 2.
What is that about? Is all of that really just explained by random variance and chance, or is there something that Garcia is doing poorly to prepare for away games or day games that might be able to be addressed in the future? If it is the latter, they can work on that. We know about the Orioles strong track record with developing pitchers. That was sarcasm just there.
Time will tell if their picking him in the Rule 5 draft was worth the small amount of trouble they went through. The key thing is that they do have the time. This was only his first option year. There are two more years where they only need to keep him on the 40-man roster to keep him around.
The Orioles can always try to turn Garcia into a power back end of the bullpen arm later. That’s where MLB.com, who ranked Garcia 15th in the O’s system in its most recent update, sees Garcia’s future:
The ball comes out of his hand really well, and while he's touched 100 mph in the past, he tends to sit more in the 93-97 mph range. He combines it with a slider that has the chance to be at least Major League average. Garcia's below-average command is mostly a product of his inexperience and should improve as he learns to repeat his mechanics with greater consistency.
That kind of makes Garcia sound like a guy who it’s really just about waiting around for when everything finally clicks. Though of course, the minor leagues are full of those guys and many of them never click.
If Garcia repeats at Bowie next year and does better on the road and during the day, who knows what might happen? Things could even go perfectly enough that he ends up in the 2018 Orioles rotation. That won’t happen, but it could. It’s up to Garcia and the Orioles to see what they will make of him now.