Deivi Garcia, Yankees toeing the line between fifth starter competition and development

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Deivi Garcia was scheduled for two innings or around 35 pitches in his first spring start, and while the numbers – 2 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 2 HR allowed, 3 K on 27 pitches – may pop both good and bad, it was less about the result and more about the journey for the phenom top prospect.

“I felt really good, very comfortable with all my pitches. I missed with two and paid the price, but overall, I felt really good,” Garcia said through translator Marlon Abreu after the game. “We have so much talent here, the key for me is staying healthy. If I am, that’s what will give me the best chance at helping this team.”

Garcia rocketed through the Yankees system, starting 2018 in Low-A and finishing 2019 in Triple-A before making his MLB last season. Carlos Mendoza, the Yankees bench coach and acting manager in Aaron Boone’s absence, has seen the entire rise, and is impressed – but not surprised – by how quickly Garcia has put his name on the map.

“I go back to instructional league in the Dominican Republic when we first signed him. He was a small guy and everyone was comping him to Pedro Martinez at the time,” Mendoza said. “But he’s a great kid, a smart kid, and is always willing to learn. He’s come a long way and we’re happy to have him.”

According to Mendoza, one of Garcia’s best traits was that he was able to block out all of that noise (like the Pedro comps), and only worrying about staying in the moment and controlling what he could control. So, while the Pedro comp is flattering, it’s not something Garcia let go to his head, or ever felt he had to live up to.

“When I was younger, my teammates used to make the comparison, and I didn’t really understand why,” Garcia said. “Later on, when you start growing up and understanding more about baseball in general, you get it. I’m proud to be compared to a legend, and idol, and a countryman like Pedro.”

“It goes to tell you how mature he was, and how well educated he was at 16,” Mendoza added. “He mixed his pitches well at that age and had a good feel for pitching; that’s rare at that age, especially in the Dominican where guys are usually just hard throwers. Deivi was different, he was pretty advanced about pitching.”

Garcia’s first taste of MLB began with a half-dozen up-and-down starts – he had a 4.98 ERA in six outings, but three of those were quality starts – and ended with the fiasco that was Game 2 of the ALDS. This year, he comes into camp with a real shot to be the Yankees’ fifth starter come April 1, but he’s still the kid who went to winter ball to work on some mechanics and came to camp knowing he has a lot to learn.

“He came to camp in a really good spot; he played a little winter ball in the Dominican to work on things, and button up some of the delivery issues he had last year,” Mendoza said.

Added Garcia: “Every off-season I try to work on my mechanics and try to simplify them. One of the things I can pinpoint is how want to stay more on my back leg, keep more weight and balance on it.”

So, yes, the numbers mean something on the surface, but the Yankees and Garcia would both trade a fifth starter’s role in 2021 for a future as an ace.

“He just needs to continue to get better – continue pounding the zone, and getting the feel for when he needs to attack or mix in his pitches,” Mendoza said. “Learn how to put together a game plan, read swings, learn from older pitchers, and go out there and compete.”

Mendoza noted that the Yankees have seen improvement in Garcia’s mechanics, and while the righty is in camp, he plans to soak up any and all advice his established peers have.

“It always has been a point of mine to listen to people around me about the game, and learn from them,” Garcia said. “One of the things I’ve learned is how to listen to your body, figure out what is out of sync and try to make corrections.”

And the Yankees, too, will continue to tread the line between development and the present.

“It’s all about having those relationships, knowing how to have those types of conversations and when the right time is to deliver a message,” Mendoza said. “He’s competing for a spot, but at the same time, continuing his development. You pick your spots knowing that in the back of his mind, and in reality, he’s competing for a spot.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN

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