There was a time when some worried that the Phillies had too much left handed starting pitching. Their rotation was headlined by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and their top prospects were Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan. This year the only left handed starting pitcher the Phillies used was Adam Morgan. The top pitching prospects in the Phillies system are right handed with almost no left handed pitching depth in the upper minors. The last two drafts have helped some, adding Cole Irvin, JoJo Romero, Bailey Falter, Tyler Gilbert, and Kyle Young to the system, but only Gilbert has made it to full season ball. There is one exception in 21 year old Dominican lefty Elniery Garcia.
Garcia was an unheralded signing who popped onto prospect lists after the 2014 season when he dominated the GCL at age 19 on the back of solid feel for a 3 pitch mix. Garcia’s statistics took a slight step back in 2015 for Lakewood, as he walked more batters while seeing a sharp decline in strikeout rate. Evaluators noted he was essentially the same pitcher, with a fastball that sat 89-91 touching 92, a good curveball with future above average to plus potential, and a changeup that flashed feel, but not consistency. The big thing Garcia was able to to do was pitch in 21 games spanning 120 innings. It was a large innings jump, but he was able to handle the increased workload. He did see a drop in strikeouts in the second half, but also a decrease in quality contact.
Garcia entered this year as the top left handed pitching prospect in the Phillies system, a title earned more by survival than upside and performance. This season Garcia added some of those missing elements.
Between Clearwater and the playoffs for Reading, Garcia once again eclipsed the 120 innings mark. He lowered his ERA to 2.68 (not including playoffs) while increasing his strikeout rate from 13.1% to 19.1%. He even took a no-hitter into the 9th inning. In addition to the innings totals, Garcia showed the ability to work deep into games as well as withstand high pitch counts, topping the 100 pitch mark three games in a row this summer, including a 115 pitch performance on June 3.
The results were not unsupported by his stuff. Garcia showed a bit more velocity this year, routinely sitting 89-93, with solid armside run. He also showed a bit more higher range to pitch, reaching back to touch 94-95 in Clearwater. During his playoff start in Reading Garcia was reportedly able to touch 97 and sit more towards the upper end of his velocity range. Garcia shows solid control of his fastball and can work it down in the zone and elevate for swings and misses. Garcia’s best secondary pitch is a mid 70s curveball with 11-5 break. The pitch can get a bit a long and loopy, but when on he will show a future plus pitch. He also shows the ability to throw the pitch for a strike as well as bury it for swings and misses, including pitching it down and into righties.
The main point of work for Garcia will be his other secondary pitches. His changeup shows future average potential, but Garcia does not seem to throw it in big situations, instead relying on his curveball. Right handed batters hit him better than lefties this year, so the development of a pitch to keep them off his fastball will be important. Additionally, Garcia has started to work back in his slider. He used it late in the year for Clearwater, and according to Jim Peyton of Phuture Phillies, Garcia would sticking around Fall Instructs to work on the pitch. We have seen some Phillies struggle with two breaking balls (Thompson) and others excel (Eickhoff) so it is hard to judge how it will affect Garcia’s arsenal.
On the mound Garcia has an easy delivery and for the most part all of his pitches come out of the same arm motion and slot, though he can get a bit deliberate with his curveball at times. Garcia is also an extremely quick worker and wastes very little time between pitches.
Despite the additions to the system, Garcia will retain the title of the best left handed starter in the organization. His end to the season (3 GS 20 IP 12 H 2 ER 5 BB 22 K) performance, all in must essentially must win games, almost certainly earned him a spot on the 40 man roster this offseason. Garcia lacks the upside of some of the Phillies low minors arms, but the combination of increased stuff and arrival in AA makes Garcia a name to be well aware of. If Garcia can just continue on his current path he could be a back end starter in the major leagues. However, if he can refine his changeup and slider, as well as harnessing the flashes he showed at the end of the year, he has the chance to exceed expectations.
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