Connecticut reliever Garcia just acts like he belongs

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Not many days after he had arrived at Single A Connecticut, which wasn’t but a few weeks after he had finished a dynamite career at the University of Miami, something about Bryan Garcia struck Connecticut pitching coach Ace Adams.

And it had little to do with Garcia’s celebrated right arm.

Adams had mentioned to Connecticut manager Mike Rabelo that Garcia had the air of a pitcher already seasoned. And the skipper agreed.

“His poise and presence are unlike anything I’ve seen at this level,” Rabelo said this weekend as Connecticut got ready for a home game against Hudson Valley. “He carries himself like a big-leaguer.”

But it isn’t disposition, or anything cosmetic, that explains Garcia’s numbers since he arrived at Connecticut in the wake of signing a Tigers contract after Detroit plucked him in the sixth round of June’s draft.

Garcia, 21, is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and in 10 games has pretty much wiped out New York-Penn League batters. The right-hander has a 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and in 11.2 innings has struck out 16 while walking two and allowing eight hits.

“Nasty sinker,” Rabelo said. “And that easy, quick arm. His slider has pretty good tilt, with late break. There’s a reason why this kid set a record at the University of Miami for saves (43 spanning Garcia’s three seasons as Hurricanes closer).

“His fastball has a heavy bore action and runs up to 95, 96. It’s just such an easy arm. You look at the radar gun, and it’s, wow, he’s at 95? It definitely doesn’t look like he’s burning excess energy. I don’t want to get carried away, but he’s a pitcher.”

Garcia is a Miami native and was a happy recruit for a university not far from Garcia’s high school, Christopher Columbus. He was a quick hit with the Hurricanes. And quick is how ninth innings tended to go when Garcia was tossing.

Why he lasted until the sixth round this year is fairly puzzling. But of course he is a reliever, even if Baseball America and others speculated that he might be better exploited as a starter. Also known in 2016 is big-league clubs prefer their starters large and Garcia, while solid, is no giant.

Rabelo and the Tigers prefer him for now in the bullpen. No matter his ultimate role, Rabelo can’t get past Garcia’s uniqueness. It’s that business about how Garcia “carries himself” on the field or away from it.

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“I think part of it is because he’s been in ninth-inning save situations, so he’s not going to let the Vermont Lake Monsters faze him,” said Rabelo, a manager and former Tigers catcher, always easy with a quip, as he referred to one of the New York-Penn League’s members. “I love him to death. As a Florida guy we have something in common (Rabelo is from New Port Richey and played for the University of Tampa).

“I mean, we have an off-day on the road and he’s playing catch in the parking lot. And yet he’s in complete control on the mound.”

One caveat when hotshot college talent begins professional baseball in the New York-Penn League is that they often overmatch younger competition, which also is part of the low-Single A mix.

Rabelo played college ball, played in the big leagues, and wended his way up the minor-league chain, all of which offers perspective.

“He’s facing a little better competition here than he did in school,” Rabelo said of Garcia, “and anyone knows he faced some good competition there. I think the thing that stands out is that he pitches with his fastball. You don’t often see that here, because guys arrive and they’re afraid to get hit (by opponent batters).”

“So, they spin the ball up there and put away their fastball because they’re afraid to get hit and with the breaking pitches and off-speed stuff they can get some funny swings, some missed contacts.

“But he (Garcia) pitches with his fastball, and that pays off. The kid does a good job of pounding the strike zone and he pitches to what he sees, not to what he thinks.”

Garcia still mixes in a change-up, with his fastball-slider combo, and so far the sequencing has been no fun for New York-Penn hitters.

He has an air about him, hitters might concede, in step with coaches and managers who so far appreciate a pitcher’s portfolio of skills and demeanor.