Cardinals left hander Jaime Garcia almost opted for professional baseball in his native country of Mexico in 2005. But area scout Joe Almaraz convinced Garcia to sign with the St. Louis as a 22nd-round pick. Almaraz is quite the persuader as he also convinced the Orioles to draft Garcia in round 30 a year prior but they did not sign him. Almaraz left Baltimore after 2004 to scout with the Cardinals and he didn’t forget about Garcia.
Much of the Cardinals attention is currently focused on Matt Holliday these days after they signed Brad Penny to seemingly replace current free agent Joel Piniero. That leaves the Cards with four definite starters: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny, and Kyle Lohse. St. Louis may try bringing back veteran John Smoltz or someone else to plug the fifth spot in the rotation but it could very well be filled with an in-house candidate.
Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters figure to be some of those in-house candidates but then there is also the case of the intriguing Jaime Garcia. Garcia was cruising through the Cardinals system before elbow soreness cut short his 2007 season. He made 18 inspiring starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2008 and received a call up to the big leagues in July 2008. Garcia served as a reliever and had a tough ten game trial (7.07 FIP) before it was determined that he needed Tommy John surgery on his left arm.
Garcia returned in 2009 and logged 38 innings in the minor leagues after surgery. He performed well in the postseason for the Triple-A Memphis club. Garcia attacks hitters with a sinking fastball that ranges from the upper 80’s to the lower 90’s and he has a hammer 12-6 curveball. Baseball America reports that he added a third useful offering last season in their recent scouting report, “He used his rehab to add a pitch that’s a cross between a cutter and slider”.
Garcia’s sinking fastball has induced ground balls at a mighty pace throughout the minor leagues. Here are his ground ball rates, courtesy of Firstinning.com, throughout the Cardinals system.
2006: A ball (78 IP)- 65%. A+ (77 IP)- 62%
2007: AA (103 IP)- 56%
2008: AA (35 IP)- 62%. AAA (71 IP)- 55%. MLB (16 IP)- 63%
2009: Rookie (4 IP)- 85%. A+ (13 IP)- 71%. AAA (21 IP)- 55%
At every single level Garcia has induced ground balls at an amazing rate. His lowest ground ball rate is 55% in 92 combined innings during two Triple-A stints. Consider the top five ground ball percentages for 2009 MLB pitchers:
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright ranked #13 with a 50.7% rate. The Cardinals had three of their 2009 starters within the top 15 and two within the top 5. Piniero is likely signing elsewhere but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t have another ground ball pitcher in their 2010 rotation.
There’s no reason not to believe that Garcia could induce ground balls at a very solid clip as a starter in the majors. His pitching repertoire would fit right into the Cardinals rotation. The Cardinals defense is very solid up the middle with slick fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan (10.6 UZR) and the rangy Colby Rasmus (8.9 UZR) is center field. Second base is the weak spot but the Julio Lugo/Skip Schumaker tandem may provide average defense with Lugo (-3.5 UZR in 168 innings) shifting over from shortstop. Schumaker (-7.7 UZR) will be spending his second season ever at the position after spending almost his entire professional career as an outfielder and there might be room for more defensive improvement.
It is also encouraging to know that with last seasons defense the Cardinals four primary starters and ground ball specialists had these BABIPS:
The Cardinals defense certainly didn’t hurt these pitchers last season.
Garcia is entering 2010 with a clean bill of health and should get a long look during the Spring. He’s one of the Cardinals better pitching prospects and offers more upside over Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be given the job. Since his professional career began in 2006 Garcia has never topped the 155 inning mark and he hit that career high in his first pro season in the lower minors. Below are Garcia’s inning totals:
2006- 155 IP
2007- 103 IP *season ends early due to elbow soreness*
2008- 122 IP *season ends with Tommy John Surgery*
2009- 38 IP *first season back from Tommy John Surgery*
It’s also worth noting that some fear Garcia’s pitching mechanics and Garcia really can’t be expected to fire 170+ big league innings next year from the Cardinals rotation. They will closely monitor Garcia and his innings total.
Keep a close eye on Garcia’s progress this Spring and the Cardinals plans. He might be ticketed to Triple-A Memphis to start 2010 but he could arrive to St. Louis’s rotation at some point during the year. He’d be a cheap pick up and worth the gamble if he’s ever presented with the opportunity to start at the big league level. If he makes the big league rotation on opening day I’d recommend picking him up but keep in mind that he likely won’t last in that role for the entire season due to his past inning totals and the fact that this will be his first full season back from injury.
Garcia fits the Cardinals overall pitching scheme and their defense is going to help him and his sinking fastball. Don’t be surprised if he’s grounding opponents with his sinker this summer in St. Louis.