This crazy, chaotic season has brought many revelations for the Yankees. On one hand, guys like Luke Voit and Gio Urshela have proven they are the real McCoys. On the other, injuries continue to plague the same few individuals while the bullpen is on shaky ground. But I think the most noteworthy development in the Yankees’ season thus far has been Deivi García’s explosion onto the scene.
García burst into the Yankee universe’s collective consciousness last season with his eye-popping strikeout tallies and rapid ascent through the minor league system. He had many clamoring for a September call-up with some ready to pencil him into the starting rotation this season.
We had to wait until around the halfway mark of the current campaign to see him on the big stage, but boy was it worth the wait. The biggest question mark for García entering his debut start was his command, as he had allowed over four walks per nine at every level in the minors last year, but he dispatched those worries swiftly and decisively. Although he was not credited for the win, García still wowed with six innings of four hit, no walk, six strikeout ball.
I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to singing García’s praises. He is mature beyond years as he was able to act as the stopper, putting an end to the Yankees’ skid. He has a calm, unflinching demeanor on the mound, and enjoys pitching in pressure situations. He can add and subtract on the fastball. He challenges hitters in the strike zone. His stuff doesn’t suffer pitching out of the stretch. Most impressively, he has shown a willingness and desire to learn. David Cone mentioned one of the changes García has integrated since spring training on last night’s YES broadcast:
“His move to the first base side of the rubber has freed up everything for him. His stuff is immeasurably better. When you have a young pitcher who turns his body so much and throws across his body, pitching from the first base side of the rubber just frees up his hips and allows him to extend much better from that position on the rubber through the target.”
It has been clear in his most recent outings that García’s education includes adding another weapon to his repertoire, and it is this I feel will help him stick in the majors. Throughout his tenure in the minors, García primarily used a two-pitch mix of fastball/curveball, sporadically sprinkling in a changeup. Last year he decided to begin experimenting with a slider to give righties a different look, but did not feature it significantly.
It turns out that slider has the potential to turn into his most valuable asset. Without it, García is missing a wipeout pitch versus righties. Command of a slow curve has to be immaculate to use it as a high-volume strikeout pitch. The inside changeup to righties can be an effective weapon, but it can also end up in the seats. He has flashed the slider’s potential in his last few starts, and in the early going, it looks like he has found exactly what’s been missing.
Check out these back-to-back sliders against the Blue Jays last week.
Aside from the obvious nastiness of both pitches, what really struck me was García’s baseball IQ shining through in the at-bat. He was able to read the batter’s swing on the first slider and body language getting back in the box. Grichuk was nowhere close to hitting the first one, but seemed to invite García to throw it again. He then showed the maturity of knowing how to sequence locations, with the strikeout slider just a little lower and a little farther outside. As an aside, you love to see him pitching with emotion.
What surprised me is that, for only having started to develop the slider last year, García is already in the upper echelons of MLB metrics on the pitch. He sits in the 78th percentile in slider spin rate and 75th percentile in slider vertical movement. Including last night’s win over the Blue Jays, the whiff rate on García’s slider stands at and impressive 45.4%. If this is just the rough version, I shudder to think how devastating the polished version could be.
Deivi García is vitally important not just this season but in the future. With three-fifths of the starting rotation set to hit free agency in Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton, as well as the injury questions surrounding Luis Severino, the Yankees need to strike gold on some of their pitching prospects. I’ll be the first to admit my skepticism over García’s readiness for the majors. I questioned whether his high walk rate in the minors would carry over and impact his sustainability in the big leagues. So far, I am more than happy to say that I was wrong, this kid is the real deal.