Projecting Deivi Garcia in 2020
Few observers will dispute that Deivi Garcia is the Yankees top prospect. Despite his slight build, Garcia sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, while throwing above-average to plus breaking balls and decent change-ups to attack both left and right-handed batters. Garcia sprinted through AA early in the 2019 season, making himself a legitimate option for the big league club by the end of the year. However, Garcia had some growing pains when he reached AAA, struggling through his first pass at the highest level of the minor leagues. While the Yankees have publicly chalked up much of his struggles to late-season fatigue, the fact remains that Garcia’s outlook for the 2020 season is somewhat murky.
While it is likely that Garcia will spend at least some time at AAA to begin the 2020 season, I think the Yankees and their fans would hope that Garcia proves capable of throwing meaningful innings for the Major League club this year. Garcia’s struggles at AAA make projecting Garcia’s potential performance at the Major League level in 2020 difficult. That said, I’m going to give it a shot.
Garcia’s performance was markedly different at AA than it was at AAA. Most publications have talked a lot about Garcia’s bottom line numbers (raw strikeout and walk totals, ERA, etc.). However, we can learn a lot more about the differences in Garcia’s performance when we dig below the surface. Below, here are some key rate stats that Garcia produced at the two highest levels of the minors in 2019:
Deivi Garcia AA and AAA statistics in 2019.
These statistics are quite telling for a number of reasons. Garcia went from an other-worldly strikeout rate in AA to an excellent, but human strikeout rate in AAA. While Garcia’s below-average walk rate remained almost identical between the two levels, batters at the AAA level were able to reach base safely via hit against Garcia at a significantly higher rate than batters at AA.
When batters made contact at AAA, they were able to lift the ball at a significantly greater frequency than AA hitters off of Garcia. Lastly, batters did more damage off of Garcia when they hit fly balls at AAA, hitting home runs on 18.2% of fly balls versus just 5% of fly balls at AA in 2019.
The underlying statistics tell a fairly definitive story as to why Garcia struggled to limit runs at AAA.
One factor cannot be ignored when looking at Garcia’s diminished performance at AAA: the ball. AAA was Garcia’s first exposure not just to the highest level of minor league hitters, but to the juiced Major League ball that produced an unprecedented number of home runs both in AAA and at the Major League level in 2019. While Garcia’s inflated HR/FB rate cannot be solely tied to the juiced ball, it is impossible to isolate that factor in Garcia’s performance at AAA.
Garcia also pitched the 2019 season at just 20 years old. As impressive as Garcia’s stuff has been in his young career, and as advanced as his control and command are for a pitcher his age, Garcia also had never faced hitters advanced enough to beat Garcia’s pure stuff without advanced command, pitch sequencing, and experience. When Garcia was at his best, he was capable of getting batters out, but without his best stuff, Garcia struggled to consistently beat AAA batters as he continued to learn how to pitch and use his pitches effectively both inside and out of the strike zone.
Lastly, Garcia threw 111 innings across three levels in 2019, 37.1 innings more than in 2018. Combined with Garcia’s slight stature, this jump in innings is large for a young pitcher. It is entirely likely that the Yankees’ public statements regarding fatigue at the end of the season are valid in Garcia’s case.
Garcia will be older and better built-up to throw more innings after crossing the 100-inning threshold for the first time. Garcia has also now faced upper-level hitters enough to understand what aspects of his pitch arsenal need the most work this off-season, so we can expect Garcia to be more evenly matched during his next go-round. Lastly, I think that it is likely that the MLB ball will not be as hot in 2020 as it was in 2019, so we can project that Garcia’s home run issues will diminish to some extent.
All of these factors lead me to believe that Garcia will be able to take steps forward next season.
Steamer600 projections are not kind to Garcia for the 2020 season. Steamer600 projections attempt to pin down true talent levels for players normalized to either 600 plate appearances or pitchers to 200 IP. Garcia’s projections at 200 IP at the MLB level in 2020 are as follows: 5.22 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 9.42 K/9, 4.39 BB/9, 1.2 fWAR. Steamer projections tend to be conservative, but certainly these projections should give those that view Garcia as an easy path to solve the Yankees’ pitching woes some pause.
That said, Steamer projections only take into account Garcia’s statistics produced to-date. I think that it is likely that Garcia will continue to grow as a pitcher in 2020, harnessing his high-octane stuff while continuing to improve his pitch sequencing, control, and command. However, Garcia’s high walk rate throughout his minor league career remains an issue, so we cannot just assume that experience and better pitch sequencing will cover up any gaps in command and control if Garcia does not make significant strides in those areas.
I admit to being more bullish than Steamer regarding Garcia’s performance, however I do not see Garcia making an impact as a starter until the 2nd half of the 2020 season. With more seasoning, I think that Garcia will be better able to limit walks and hits. I also believe that the ball will be gentler to pitchers next year, so I do not believe that Garcia will be hurt as badly by fly balls in 2020.
Given all of the information above, I project the following for Deivi Garcia in 2020, assuming health:
12 starts, 63 IP, 9.45 K/9, 3.65 BB/9, 8.0 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 4.20 ERA
With a full season’s worth of starts, a pitcher with those stats would be at least slightly above-average starter by any measure of WAR. I feel comfortable projecting Garcia’s walk rate to drop just based on both standard progression and a return to something between his 2019 walk rate and the stellar walk rates he displayed in 2017/2018. There is no denying that Garcia has elite stuff, and multiple reports indicate that Garcia also has had his curveball and fastball measured with elite spin rates. Those are weapons that can’t be taught, and further development time in 2020 will only help Garcia further realize his potential.
Young pitchers are notoriously volatile, and Deivi Garcia is no different. There are a wide range of possible outcomes for Garcia’s future performance. However, Garcia is on the cusp of making his first appearances at the Major League level, so we can make better guesses about how he will perform when he ultimately arrives. Despite some growing pains in 2019, I see a player who can be a helpful piece on a contending team in 2020 with some more time to develop at AAA.
Assuming Garcia remains a Yankee this off-season, I see a player that will make a positive impression at the Major League level in 2020.