A couple of weeks ago, an unknown rookie named Luis Garcia was thrust into the flames for the Astros, handed three outings without an ounce of experience above High-A ball, and rewarded the club with outstanding performances. Across the three games, he completed 10 and ⅔ innings while allowing just 3 earned runs, good for a 2.53 ERA. While Garcia isn’t exactly an unknown in Astros prospecting circles, few projected that he would make his big league debut in 2020, especially with the minor league season being cancelled, and he wasn’t a blue chipper. So who exactly is Garcia, and what is his long term role with the Astros?
The right-handed hurler was signed on July 2nd of 2017, one of the players the Astros acquired while their international spending was capped. An older international prospect, Garcia was already 20 and ½ years old upon signing. He quickly got to work in the lower levels of the minors, and primarily threw in 1-3 inning stints. His results were immediately excellent, as he struck out roughly 40% of opposing batters in his first tastes of the pro game.
His performance turned heads, but it was Garcia’s physicality that really put him on the map. His frame was immediately advanced at 6’1” and over 200 lbs., and he used his tanky build to consistently pepper his opposition with mid-90s heat, occasionally touching higher. He also showed high end spin ability, though in the early stages of his career his breaking stuff was a bit all over the place, as he’d mix a slider and curve that had a tendency to blend together at times.
Impressed with Garcia’s progression, the Astros ramped up his role in 2018. He split his work that year between Tri-City and Quad Cities, and also threw longer outings, working as a tandem starter who usually handled about 4 innings per appearance. He answered the call with apparent ease, continuing to post gaudy numbers while maintaining his strong run prevention markers. If there was a blemish on his resume at this point, it was that his walk rate crept up a bit to slightly concerning ranges, but they were still on the upper end of the starting pitcher range rather than truly alarming.
It was in the 2018-19 offseason that Garcia started to garner serious attention from prospectors around the game, as most evaluators who had gotten eyes on him had come away impressed by his body and devastating 1-2 punch. Most felt confident that Garcia could at least be a viable bullpen weapon at the highest level, and some even saw a potential starter with a bit more refinement. He took a slot near the back end of Astros organizational rankings, and carried some hype into the 2019 campaign, which he started back at Quad Cities. In his return to the River Bandits, he was absolutely dominant, striking out nearly 36% of opposing batters while walking under 10% across 43 frames. This earned him a promotion to High-A Fayetteville where he got another 65 and ⅔ innings with similar results.
Had the 2020 season gone off as planned, Garcia would’ve been a top 20 Astros prospect marked with a potential up arrow, as his continued dominance and health across a larger, more difficult workload gave more hope to those who believed he might be able to start. The season shutdown initially looked to be very costly for Garcia, as it was difficult to imagine a pitcher with no Double-A experience throwing in the big leagues for a playoff team. He was, however, given an opportunity at the team’s alternate site, and a rash of injuries to the big league pitching staff thrust him into early action.
Garcia, given an almost impossible assignment, was unbelievably impressive. While he didn’t whiff as many big league hitters as he was accustomed to in the minors, but he did induce plenty of weak contact with an expected batting average of just .241 against him. He primarily leaned on his fastball in the majors, averaging around 94 MPH, and somewhat surprisingly didn’t show a ton of confidence in his breaking stuff. Instead, he opted to use his changeup as his go-to secondary offering, and had decent success doing so. This, in my view, is a positive marker for Garcia’s future success, as his slider/slurve were often his best offerings as a minor leaguer. When we see Garcia in the majors again, he could potentially start missing more bats if he has greater confidence in the pitch.
Going forward, Garcia’s success is dependent on a couple of factors. As mentioned above, we haven’t really been able to get a feel for how much of a weapon his breaking ball(s) could be at the highest level yet, and it’s possible that long term a breaking pitch is his out pitch. Perhaps more importantly, however, is where Garcia’s command grade ends up at maturity. Right now, he has fringy command for a starter, and any improvements in that area would greatly increase his chances of sticking in a rotation role. If his location remains more static, his long term role is more likely that of a setup man. Regardless of his future, he has already been a very pleasant surprise in 2020, and makes for a nice parting gift from the departed Luhnow front office.