One of the leading contenders for a September callup, right-hander Christian Garcia, has taken an unusual path towards potentially joining the Washington Nationals just two weeks from this Saturday. Yet, based on what he’s done on the mound this year, it may actually be more of a surprise if he doesn’t get the call than if he does.
Garcia, who’ll turn 27 later this month, was originally a 3rd Round pick in the 2004 Draft by the New York Yankees out of a Florida high school (Gulliver Prep HS, Coral Gables, FL) that’s never produced any Major League talent. A starting pitcher by trade, Garcia pitched relatively well over his next three seasons, posting a 10-14 record with a sub-4.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. But, injuries struck and he would end up undergoing Tommy John Surgery late in the 2006 season.
By 2007 he was highly regarded within the Yankees minor league system, even though it was known that he’d miss the entire season. River Avenue Blues, for instance, ranked Garcia as #17 on their 2007 pre-season Top 30 Prospects list. RAB, one of the larger Yankee blogs that happens to be run by a great group of guys (including Mike Axisa, now of MLBTR and FanGraphs) noted that had it not been for the elbow injury, Garcia may have been the team’s #2 prospect that year. That would have placed him ahead of current big leaguers like Jose Tabata, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Brett Gardner, and our own Tyler Clippard (who was ranked #12 that year). As is, at #17 Garcia still came in ahead of guys like Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero.
He’d return in 2008, working his way up to Double-A by season’s end. But the injury concerns continued in 2009, with knee and oblique concerns limiting him to just five starts in what would be a lost year.
In 2010, Garcia once again seemed healthy but it was becoming evident that the Yankees organization was starting to lose faith in Garcia’s ability to develop into a quality starting option. He’d make one start on the year, pitching 5.2 of shutout baseball before having to come out of the game with elbow discomfort. Garcia would once again need to undergo Tommy John Surgery and would miss the remainder of the season. The Yankees, who had added Garcia to their 40-man roster in an effort to prevent losing him in the Rule 5 Draft the prior winter, finally had enough and released him in early May rather than keeping him on the 60-day DL (and let him accrue service time in the process).
By the following Spring Garcia was making plans to throw for scouts, but there were no indications that the Yankees were interested in bringing him back. After all, he’d only been able to give the organization 260.2 innings of work since being drafted in 2004 and 112 of those came during the 2005 season. Washington would end up signing him late that Spring and opted to use Garcia strictly as a reliever in the hopes that it would reduce some of the strain on his arm.
The results have been there since. Over the past two seasons Garcia has made 49 appearances, totaling 65.2 innings of work. He’s 5-1 over that span with 17 saves, 91 strikeouts, and just 18 walks. In 25.1 innings this year at Triple-A Syracuse he’s posted a 0.36 ERA. Most importantly, he’s stayed healthy.
Garcia’s career has been derailed repeatedly by injury and he is one of the few pitchers to undergo Tommy John Surgery multiple times and still find himself on the mound. He’s had to reinvent himself as a reliever and the transition seems to be working thus far.
We won’t know with any certainty if Garcia will actually be one of the team’s September callups until those decisions are made in a few weeks. It’s worth noting that the Nationals currently have a full 40-man roster (not counting two players currently on the 60-day DL), meaning that a move would need to be made somewhere in order to make room for Garcia to join the team in Washington and there are no obvious candidates to be released outside of possibly Yunesky Maya.
At this point in his career, Garcia’s proven just about all that he can in the minor leagues. Now that’s he’s been able to remain healthy, the time may be now for Washington to see what they potentially have in the right-hander. Maybe that electric arm that the Yankees blogs have fawned over for years will finally get his chance.