It’s unusual that the “Friday night starter” for one of the nation’s top college teams, a traditional powerhouse – and conference pitcher of the year, to boot – would be available in the in the second round of the MLB Draft.
Yet, when the Texas Rangers were on the clock with the 50th overall pick in this year’s draft, that’s the exact scenario that played out.
The Rangers happily selected right-handed starter Ryan Garcia out of UCLA with the pick and haven’t looked back.
Maybe his size (6 feet, 180 pounds) depressed his draft rankings a bit.
Maybe the forearm strain that caused him to miss the team’s first 12 games scared some teams off.
It could be their loss.
“It was super exciting to get drafted where I was,” Garcia said.
After he signed his contract – including a $1.47 million bonus – Garcia made one appearance for the Rangers’ Arizona Rookie League team, then the parent club assigned him to the Spokane Indians earlier this week.
Garcia made his debut on Saturday against Hillsboro, throwing two impressive innings.
His arsenal is everything a scout could want.
Garcia throws four pitches – all for strikes: a mid-90s, four-seam fastball; a 12-to-6 curveball; a changeup with arm-side run that looks a lot like his fastball out of his hand; and a slider, which is a little hard and sharp. It’s a quiet delivery with a quick arm.
“I take pride in being able to throw the ball a little harder,” Garcia said, “but I think it all comes down to location and pitch sequencing, for sure.”
He can blow it by hitters when needed, but he also thinks his way through things.
“I prefer to let the hitter get himself out on my pitch,” he said. “So I’m not necessarily giving him a cookie right off the bat, or even late in the zone. I’m still making my pitches letting him get out.”
Garcia, a political science major who likes to watch Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel when he’s relaxing, says it’s “a mind game out there.”
“You read what the hitters are doing on certain pitches, and even in the on-deck circle, you take a peek over to see who’s hitting.”
His résumé shows he can get it done.
Garcia went 10-1 with a 1.44 ERA in 84 innings with 12 starts his junior year – the lone blemish coming in the Bruins’ last game of the season, a loss to eventual national runners-up Michigan in the Super Regionals.
He struck out 117 and walked 26, which is impressive enough, but Garcia allowed just 16 extra-base hits (five homers, 11 doubles) over the span. The performance earned him Pac-12 pitcher of the year honors.
“I don’t like to allow walks,” Garcia said, admitting he didn’t know the stat about the extra-base hits. “People don’t like to give up hits, but it’s gonna happen.”
“I think the thing that stands out the most, is just how he was able to get a high amount of swings and misses in the college season with fastballs,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said.
“So that tells me a couple things,” Hook continued. “It’s like, one, kind of the attitude about him coming right at guys and two, is the fastball has a lot of life.”
Hook also liked the idea that Garcia’s college coaches trusted him with the start against Michigan in the Super Regionals.
“It’s huge,” Hook said. “Anytime you’re playing in postseason baseball, whether it be at the college level, and in his case major college, being the No. 1 team in college baseball for most of the year, and a prestigious program like UCLA – that’s a huge benefit for our staff or our team.
“When you add that type of experience, and just knowledge and kind of understanding of what it means to play in those impact games in the postseason, I think we could all benefit from having a guy like that around.”
“That gave me confidence,” Garcia said of the experience. “That my coach trusted me in a big game like that.”
He said he grew as a pitcher after his early-season injury scare.
“That’s kind of how it was in the beginning of the season. I was told I was going to be the Friday starter, obviously went down with like a two-week injury. But came back and coach still trusted me with the ball. So there’s trust all along. I felt it.”
Because Garcia pitched a lot of innings this college season and postseason – plus the injury – the Rangers are going to be cautious with him and limit the number of innings he pitches the rest of the summer.
“Our pitching department is smart about lining up a pretty precise program for those guys who have come off a full college season,” Hook said. “And with him being in the postseason, we definitely consider that in his workload here. So that’s all mapped out and done by our pitching coordinator and communicated through our pitching coaches and the manager.”
The organization wants Garcia to get experience in pro ball but keep him healthy at the same time.
“We’re going to be careful not overusing him,” Hook admitted. “We want him to get the feeling of starting games, but at the same time, it’s probably going to be a little shorter outings, just because we want to limit the total innings over the course of a 12-month span.”
Even though Garcia is excited to get going with his pro career, he knows the Rangers have his best interests in mind.
“The priority right now is just to be healthy, stay healthy,” Garcia conceded. “There’s really no need to rush anything right now. This is just getting my feet in the water. And then, you know, going from there.”
The past few years, the Rangers spent many of their top draft picks on high school players and would send them to extended spring training and the Arizona Rookie League for seasoning, then the following summer assign them to Spokane.
This year, the Indians have assigned nine college players – including the second, third and fifth-round picks – to the Indians. A few more may be on the way.
But Garcia wasn’t originally aware he’d been drafted at all – he was pitching in UCLA’s regional game against Loyola Marymount.
“I found out after our game was over,” he said. “My parents were able to tell me, I think it was two hours after the game.”
Garcia was appreciative he could share the news with his teammates.
“I think I’d take that over, you know, a phone call at home,” he said. “I think playing a game and finding out after is a little more special.
“Everybody was so happy for me.”
He wasn’t the only player from UCLA taken that early. Michael Toglia went No. 23 overall to Colorado, Chase Strumpf was selected at No. 64 by the Chicago Cubs and Ryan Kreidler went at No. 112 to Detroit.
“There’s some confidence in the guys that we had, I think 13 guys (total) drafted this year, and credit to those guys,” Garcia said. “We worked hard in the fall to get where we ended up. It was fun.”
Garcia said the loss to Michigan was “bittersweet.”
“I think winning the Pac-12 is definitely a milestone for us,” he said. “We hadn’t done that in my three years there until this past year. So that was a big accomplishment.
“But you know, getting to Super Regionals, our first time doing that in three years. I guess you can see the silver lining. But credit to Michigan, they played well.”