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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Rico Garcia

The last man in the Orioles bullpen went two weeks between outings and was optioned after pitching yesterday.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays
Reliever Rico Garcia is on the Orioles active roster right now. Have you forgotten about him?
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

How he arrived: Minor league signing 11/21, contract selected (temporary replacement) 6/13/22, contract selected for real 7/10/22

Who left: Travis Lakins Sr. placed on 60-day injured list due to elbow inflammation

One of the hallmarks of recent Orioles seasons has been occasional desperate searching for someone, anyone who can come in to pitch. The 2021 Orioles used 39 different pitchers (plus three position players pitching) to get through the season, with 17 of these pitchers throwing fewer than ten innings for the team. Fortunes have improved for the 2022 O’s so far, but they’ve still chewed through a lot of pitchers, using 30 different guys, of whom 11 have tossed fewer than ten innings to date.

Rico Garcia, a 28-year-old right-hander from Hawaii, is the latest of the guys who are here in the last spot in the bullpen. He’s now been here twice, having briefly replaced Keegan Akin on the roster due to Akin’s not being able to legally enter Canada, then returned under more regular circumstances since replacing Bruce Zimmermann on the MLB roster on July 10.

You could have easily forgotten about this since Garcia did not pitch between July 10 and July 24. Between the off days on either side of the Cubs series and the All-Star break, the O’s have had six days off since Garcia’s addition to the roster. He was optioned back to the minors after pitching two innings on Sunday.

Garcia was originally a 30th round draft selection by the Rockies in the 2016 draft, picked after his senior season at Hawaii Pacific University. His pro career has outlasted the round he was drafted in, with the draft now seeming to be locked in at 20 rounds for the foreseeable future. He was barely even worth mentioning in prospect rankings or reports.

Before the 2019 season, the Rockies prospect ranking on FanGraphs included this brief note about Garcia, who wasn’t ranked but just mentioned under “Relievers”: “Garcia is starting right now, but his 93-96 and average secondaries project in the bullpen.” That’s not much to build hype. There are a lot of guys with mid-90s velocity and average secondaries at best. Orioles prospects with similarly brief tidbits prior to this season: Alejandro Mendez, Dylan Heid, Juan De Los Santos. Maybe one of these guys will make it to MLB some day, but the odds aren’t in their favor.

Sure enough, Garcia has landed in the bullpen. He was used as a starting pitcher in the Colorado system through 2019, when he began his season as an old-for-the-level Double-A pitcher with a sub-1.00 WHIP in 13 starts. Triple-A went much worse for Garcia in that 2019 season, though he ended up getting to make a two-game debut for Colorado, bounced to the Giants on waivers, then was pressed into service for 12 games in the shortened 2020 season.

Tommy John surgery cut short Garcia’s 2021 season before it could even begin. At that point, Garcia had pitched in 14 big league games and was sitting on a 7.31 career ERA. For a guy who was already 27, this could have been career-ending.

There’s always a chance for a guy who’s willing to wait out a minor league deal in an organization that’s desperate for pitching depth. The O’s signed Garcia, got him through the end of his rehab, then started working him up through the minors. He was healthy for a couple games at High-A Aberdeen and for a handful of games at Double-A Bowie, struck out more than a batter per inning in nine games for Triple-A Norfolk.

Teams with stable pitching staffs don’t need to shuffle through guys like Garcia constantly. For instance, the 61-32 Houston Astros have only used 19 pitchers so far this year, of which 16 are currently on their 40-man roster.

Between injuries suffered and poor-performing pitchers released, the O’s have already used ten pitchers who are off the roster. Denyi Reyes, Beau Sulser, Cody Sedlock, Logan Allen, Garcia. Roll through enough of these guys and eventually you find one who’s at least temporarily useful, as Austin Voth has been for the 2022 team to date. Maybe Garcia will be too, though he’s already given up two home runs in 5.2 innings and has only struck out two batters. It’ll take more than that to get back onto the Orioles for long.

Still to come: Louis Head