As recent as last year, Deivi García was easily the best pitching prospect in the New York Yankees’ farm system. Despite a low-90s fastball, he was as tooled up as a pitcher gets. His go-to two-pitch combination of the four-seam fastball and top-down curveball were magnificent. In 2018 and 2019, he flew through multiple levels of the minors at the ages of 19 and 20.
Even with a small 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame, some prospect evaluators saw ace potential in García. Combine plus stuff, ultra-deception, and improved command and it all makes for an extremely high ceiling. No matter which prospect list was cited, he was at worst a top-50 prospect and at best, a top-20 prospect. Fans even got glimpses of his ability to retire big league hitters in 2020. He wasn’t necessarily fantastic in his brief stint, but he showed flashes of a legit starting pitcher. Considering he was 21 years of age and enduring his rookie campaign in the brunt of a pandemic, his performance was extremely impressive.
But in 2021, something else happened.
To call it a regression would be an understatement. In 2021, everything fell apart for Deivi. Velocity ticked down, command/control plummeted, and his mechanics turned into a mess as well (with rumor abound that someone ruined his delivery). What was once as a repertoire led by an extremely effective four-seam fastball and 12-6 curve, was now a measly version of that. After a progressive arm slot drop from the super athletic prospect, the shape of García’s pitches had lost their optimal form.
A velocity drop isn’t all that surprising given García’s size. He could have survived that. But a change in pitch shape completely altered his approach. His recipe for success was compromised. Deivi’s fastball was special because of two specific pitch properties and added deception. His spin efficiency is nearly 100 percent — basically, his fastball stays on the same plane in which it’s released. It’s as if the pitch is being thrown out of a pitching machine.
On top of that, García has an excellent Vertical Approach Angle (VAA) — how steep a pitch is when it approaches the plate. It’s what the hitter sees. VAA and spin efficiency indicate that García’s fastball is extremely tough to catch up to or identify. Before 2021, this was exactly the case! García was a wizard with his fastball. He could get swings and misses despite average velocity, and more importantly, he was superb at getting takes at the bottom of the zone. Why is that? This is where the deception aspect comes in.
Deivi has ridiculous extension. Like I said earlier, he’s not a very tall person. Yet, he releases the ball almost as close to the plate as somebody like Jacob deGrom, who is much taller and has great extension of his own. On top of that, García releases the ball lower than most pitchers as well. So not only does he release the ball extremely low and close to home plate, but it also rides at the bottom of the zone and barely loses it plane. This is the perfect recipe for freezing hitters at the bottom of the zone.
García’s 12-6 type curveball was a perfect complement to his fastball because it could tunnel nicely and get a combination of groundballs and chases. However, since he’s dropped his arm slot, his curve took on more of a sweeping action and his fastball didn’t always have the same perfect shape that it used to. It makes sense that his control suffered. His pitches were moving different than they ever had and he was releasing the ball differently as well. He had a different set of mechanics locked into his brain and was suddenly working with something else.
The issue for García and the Yankees is trying to find out how they can fix it. Speaking from experience, I’ve seen pitchers who were successful as four-seam/curveball dominant suffer from throwing their slider more often. It’s well known that these pitches tend to blend with one another over time for some pitchers. Sonny Gray has spoken to this on a few occasions. I’m not saying that this is 100 percent why his pitch shapes changed, but it is one potential reason that other pitchers have dealt with.
I know this sounds dismal. The once-promising prospect experienced a complete change in his repertoire for the worse. But honestly, I’m counting on a big bounce back for Deivi. He’s extremely athletic, young, and has two people at his helm who understand these concepts better than anybody on earth in Sam Briend and Matt Blake.
To me, García’s path for a rebound is extremely clear! He knows what he’s supposed to feel and what his pitch properties should be. Some players don’t know either. It’s usually a pretty good thing when you can diagnose struggles like that because it makes the development plan structured and clear. I’m hoping that all he needs is a few trips to the Gas Station to return back to his 2018-19 form.