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Limiting walks will be the key for Deivi García’s future with the Yankees

The rookie right-hander impressed with the low number of bases on balls he had in 2020. Is he capable of maintaining his control gains long-term?

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In 2019, while dominating in Double-A, there was a chance that Deivi García could have reached the bigs. Instead, he struggled a bit in Triple-A and his debut was postponed a few months. Enter 2020: the talented righty was called up in the short season to provide a spark to the Yankees’ rotation, and he did just that.

In 34.1 innings, García had a 4.98 ERA, but with a 4.15 FIP. He struck out 8.65 batters per each nine innings. But perhaps more encouragingly, his BB/9 was 1.57. That number is incredible if we consider that, through three minor league levels in 2019, it was 4.4.

García has several weapons. His low-90s four-seamer has some life and can be effective, and he has a great curveball that misses bats (a 31.4 whiff rate and 71st percentile spin rate). He throws a slider, as well, but the most surprising offering in his arsenal was a changeup that multiple analysts labeled as “developing”, but that delivered excellent results in the bigs. Batters had a .244 xwOBA and a 79.4 mph average exit velocity against it, with a 28.8% whiff rate.

The changeup helped him neutralize lefties (.226/.273/.306 with a .257 wOBA) which was a huge question mark entering the season. However, the most important development for García in 2020 was tied to his walk rate.

The 1.57 BB/9 mark he had in 2020 was not only considerably better than the 4+ marks he had in 2019, but it was also the best register of his career, except for a brief 15.1 inning stint in Rookie ball in 2017.

A mirage or real skill growth?

Is a sub-2.00 BB/9 sustainable for García? Probably not to that extent, but only time will tell. He has the athleticism to keep it up, so it is possible that it was a step forward in his development curve.

Development, of course, is not linear. Pitchers make adjustments depending on the level they play and the experience they gather. The 2018 García ran sub-3.00 BB/9 in Class A and Class A-Advanced. Then, he started climbing up the ladder, and the number went up in the high minors, to the 4+ range.

And because he had a 4.36 BB/9 in Double-A and a 4.50 mark in Triple-A, I found it extremely surprising—and encouraging—that he threw more than 30 frames and ran a sub-2.00 BB/9 mark in the big leagues. The sample is small, but still. For the Yankees, it was a best-case scenario.

Now, García will face, by far, the biggest test of his short pitching career. In 2021, he will need to prove that the control gains he made this year can stick in a more extended sample size. If that’s the case, he will be an exciting arm for a long time and has top-of-the-rotation potential.

But let’s pump the brakes a little bit and remember that he is still a kid. When the 2021 season starts, he will still be 21 years old. As of now, García could potentially start next year with a rotation spot, but the Yankees will need to be patient with him. If he struggles, let him work through those struggles, and make adjustments on the go.

Now that he has more than two useful, big-league caliber pitches, the key for Deivi García’s future in the major leagues, and the one element that will decide if he will be a high-leverage reliever, a back-end starter or a top-of-the-rotation arm, will be his walk rate.