NORTH PORT, Fla. – Deivi Garcia’s 2019 rocket ride through the Yankees system had stalled at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre – one stop away from the Bronx.
But he wasn’t disappointed by the finish to an eye-opening season.
“It’s a matter of waiting for that opportunity and when the opportunity comes, to do your job,’’ said the right-hander, who won’t turn 21 until May 19.
Garcia still faces steep odds of making the Yankees staff out of spring training, despite two rotation vacancies due to injuries.
Yet, this audition might lead to an important part by midseason – either as a starter or in the bullpen.
“I’m the type of person that likes to compete,’’ said Garcia, after showing some intriguing flashes Friday afternoon of what’s to come during his first Grapefruit League start.
“I like challenges, I like competition.''
‘Why we're excited about him’
And during Garcia's two innings against a well-stocked Atlanta Braves lineup, "we saw a lot of the good,'' said Yankees manager Aaron Boone.
Garcia gave up one hit - a two-run homer by Johan Camargo - and struck out three batters, all looking at fastballs.
"There are things to clean up and correct and talk about,'' Boone said of Garcia's performance.
"But overall, I thought he threw the ball really well and kind of gave a glimpse of why we're excited about him.''
That excitement began with Atlanta's first batter, when Ronald Acuna went down on strikes.
Garcia also rung up Marcell Ozuna and Travis d'Arnaud.
But after getting ahead 0-and-2 to Ender Inciarte, Garcia issued a walk that led to Camargo's homer on a 1-and-1 fastball that stayed up.
On his own
Garcia wasn’t two months past his 16th birthday when the Yankees signed him in 2015, a slightly built Dominican right-hander who idolized a countryman with a similar frame.
Pedro Martinez is “someone I look up to,’’ said Garcia, currently listed at 5-foot-9, 163 pounds. “I’ve never met him before, but he’s one of the persons that I would like to meet at some point and learn from a great pitcher like him.’’
Too young to see the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Martinez pitch live, Garcia has watched clips of the Hall of Famer’s career via the Internet.
But Garcia isn’t trying to copy anyone, and the exaggerated torque in his delivery can make his 93-94 mph fastball that much more deceptive.
“I like to use my fastball and surprise hitters, keep them off balance,’’ Garcia said of attacking hitters in the zone, as he did on Friday.
Garcia basically used just fastballs and curveballs on Friday, though he has a change-up and he’s developing a slider.
For Boone, the slider isn’t essential for Garcia, but another weapon that “would be nice to have,’’ especially against right-handed hitters.
But right now, “he’s got the pitches to be very good.’’
Road to the Bronx
After opening last season at Class A Tampa and making 11 starts at Class AA Trenton, Garcia found himself at the Class AAA level by mid-July.
And there was every chance, at age 20, that Garcia could impact the Yankees’ 2019 pennant drive.
“We still felt like he had some development to go, but he certainly earned his way to Triple-A,’’ Boone said. “Then had some ups and downs there.’’
In 11 games (six starts), Garcia pitched to a 5.40 ERA at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Yet, overall at three levels, Garcia struck out 165 batters in 111.1 innings.
“The fact that he shot up the way he did at such a young age is a tribute to the advanced way in which he pitches,’’ Boone said of the youngest player in his camp.
Jordan Montgomery has an inside track at one rotation spot and the likes of Luis Cessa, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt will make it tough for Garcia to break camp with a big-league role.
“Sometimes…you push yourself into the picture a little bit more,’’ Boone said of a talented youngster like Garcia. “This is the big leagues and we’re playing for a lot.
“If guys leapfrog (other) guys, so be it.’’