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The path to pinstripes for Deivi Garcia

How can the Yankees’ top prospect force his way onto the Opening Day roster?

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Yankees top prospect Deivi Garcia took the minor leagues by storm in 2019, posting a 4.28 ERA in 111 innings, striking out 165 batters and limiting opponents to a .231 AVG in 26 appearances (21 starts). He flew through the system, making four starts for the Tampa Tarpons and 11 for the Trenton Thunder before finishing the season for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Along the way, he was praised for elite stuff, including a plus curveball and a fastball that tops out at 97, as well as command and poise that led Pat Osborn to draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez.

Most likely, Garcia will begin the season by returning to Scranton, as the Yankees look to avoid rushing the young starter (he will only turn 21 in May). After all, he did come a bit down to earth again after making the jump to Triple-A, posting a 5.40 ERA in 40 innings. That so, however, the Yankees have been known to allow young pitchers to come out of nowhere and earn spots on the roster, so there is precedent for him to force his way into the big leagues. What would he have to do to earn that?

Garcia’s path to the roster comes via the fifth spot in the rotation (while he could make it as a reliever, it’s unlikely that the Yankees would want to mess with his development by doing so). Veteran J.A. Happ currently has the inside track for the job, although Jordan Montgomery could easily reclaim the job that he won out of spring training in 2017 and held down before his injury in 2018. The presence of both pitchers will make it difficult for Garcia to win a spot in the rotation, but neither provide an insurmountable obstacle, either.

In fact, it is his own opponent for the job that provides Garcia the blueprint to win it. Much like the 20-year-old, Montgomery climbed rapidly through the farm system, reaching Triple-A in his third season in the organization. Garcia, meanwhile, has been with the Yankees for four years, although coming in as an amateur free agent at 17 and not out of college at 21. The ZiPS projections, meanwhile, suggest that Garcia enters spring training this year in a spot similar to that of Montgomery three years ago, talent-wise. In 2017, ZiPS projected Montgomery would post a 4.72 FIP, while the system anticipates a 4.55 FIP for Garcia this year. Garcia is expected to total more strikeouts, walks, and home runs, but when you’re dealing with rookies who never even had a cameo in the big leagues, it becomes pointless to quibble over the details in projection systems. For the most part, they’re identical.

Because of this, we’d likely need to see a similar type of performance by Garcia in order for him to leapfrog Happ and Montgomery — considering his top prospect status, Garcia needs to show not only that he can outperform both veterans now, but also that he does not need more seasoning in the minors, and that promoting him now would not hamper his development.

Back in 2017, Montgomery posted a 3.20 ERA in 19.2 innings during spring training, with a 5.67 K/BB ratio, an opposing OPS of .534, and a WHIP of 0.97. In doing so, he demonstrated that he could miss bats, generate soft contact, and keep the ball in the zone. This will be Garcia’s task this spring. If he accomplishes these goals, he just might earn a spot in the rotation.