He strides to the mound like it was where he was always meant to stand — 203 pounds are packed tightly onto his 6-foot-2 frame. He fires off pitches with the smooth delivery of a 23-year-old starter who had planned on using his right arm to carry him through the minor leagues since as early as he could play in competitive games when he was living in the Dominican Republic.
Yeudy Garcia has become the de facto ace for the Marauders this season, a year after breaking through with Class A West Virginia in Charleston. As obvious as it seems when he effortlessly mows through Florida State League lineups, his emergence is regarded as an improbability. He didn’t sign with the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic until he was 20 years old, and the acquisition was mostly relegated to the final bullet points of beat writers’ notebooks in Pittsburgh or a single line in MLB’s daily transactions report.
“No one really gave a (expletive) about him because he was 20,” said Rene Gayo, the Pirates’ director of Latin American scouting, “so they treat you like you’ve got leprosy.”
In his three years since signing with Pittsburgh, Garcia has gone from an unknown and afterthought to a legitimate starting-pitching prospect for an organization with a reputation for developing unlikely success stories. MLB.com ranked Garcia as the No. 12 player in the organization during its midseason rankings and as Pittsburgh’s fifth-best pitching prospect, and he’ll be on the mound Friday at 6:30 p.m. for Game 1 of the Florida State League (FSL) Championship Series at McKechnie Field. The Class A Advanced affiliate’s championship hopes lie in the newfound depth of its rotation. Garcia’s consistency is instrumental.
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And consistency was the one skill that never seemed to be a concern for Garcia. The key to the Pirates’ scouting report and interest in the right-handed pitcher was his delivery. Garcia didn’t necessarily overwhelm hitters with a blistering fastball or an array of plus pitches. He had a smooth delivery and pounded the strike zone. At 20, he pitched with polish.
“I made the decision even before watching him play the game that day,” Gayo said.
By the time Garcia pitched in front of Gayo he finally had a few years of pitching under his belt. For the first 18 years of his life, Garcia was an infielder and never drew the eyes of many Major League scouts. The Yankees and Rockies both expressed interest in Garcia as a teenager, but they weren’t weren’t enticed by his ability in the field.
“They asked me if I’d ever pitched or if I’d like to pitch,” Garcia said through a translator. “I preferred hitting.”
It wasn’t until the end of his teen years when Garcia finally saw fit to try pitching.
His first appearance on the mound came at the end of a long day. He began the game at his typical shortstop position and later moved to third base. For the final innings, Garcia was placed on the mound, where he started firing 87- and 88-mph fastballs. Soon, pitching became his focus.
Have you ever seen a guy go play in a game and when he goes up to the plate the umpire asks him for his ID? When he goes up to the mound, the umpire asks him for his ID? ... When that happens I'll worry about it.
Rene Gayo, Pirates director of Latin American scouting
For two years, Pittsburgh’s minimal interest in Garcia the shortstop became legitimate intrigue in Garcia the pitcher. Eventually, it was enough for Gayo to come to the Dominican Republic to make the final call on whether to sign Garcia.
Garcia, who hails from the rural town of Pueblo Viejo in Azua along the Haitian border, was starting to grow impatient. Interest was scant enough for him to request only $15,000 as a signing bonus.
Gayo watched as Garcia went through his warm-up routine. Despite his lack of experience as a pitcher, Garcia had the mechanical efficiency the Pirates look for. He turned to Juan Mercado, Pittsburgh’s supervisor in the Dominican Republic.
“We need to sign him,” Gayo said. “I won’t leave here without him being a Pirate.”
Mercado went to make his offer and returned with a negotiation. Garcia’s camp had bumped their request to $25,000.
“Let’s just give him ($35,000) and close the deal,” Gayo said.
They had an agreement before the game even began and Garcia was pitching for the Dominican Summer League Pirates the next year. Last year, his second year in the organization, he began as a relief pitcher for the Power, although that only lasted a month. By mid May, he was in the West Virginia rotation and finished the year with a 2.10 ERA.
This year, Garcia’s 2.76 ERA is fifth-best in the FSL and second-best among those who reached the postseason.
“The biggest thing that I focus on is maintaining my mechanics and repeating my mechanics,” Garcia said. “That’s what’s helped me get to where I am now.”
Who: Bradenton Marauders at St. Lucie Mets
What: Florida State League South divisional series Game 1
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Port St. Lucie