Centered off the field, Tigers prospect Bryan Garcia returns from surgery with success

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Bryan Garcia pitches for the Mud Hens earlier this month.

Toledo, Ohio -- With his first love taken away from him last season, Bryan Garcia focused on the other things he could control.

He was just two years removed from setting the all-time saves record at Miami, leading the Hurricanes to the College World Series and being drafted as a pro in 2016.

After being fast tracked through the Tigers system -- three promotions in his first full pro season had him in Triple-A by August 2017 -- Garcia was suddenly without baseball for a year after Tommy John surgery in February of last year.

“You realize what really is important, who you should be, what type of person you want to be and what type of person you want to be for your family, most importantly,” Garcia said last week before a game in Toledo. “I just took that time and realized, I had a couple things I wanted to work on, nothing drastic. It’s just a couple things personally that I thought I could be better at.”

Back with the Triple-A Mud Hens after two promotions this year, the 24-year-old Garcia is finding that he’s a also different pitcher post-surgery than the closer who set hitters up with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and then sent them down with the slider.

“Right now, with my changeup, I’m very happy with where it’s at, it’s definitely ahead of my slider I think,” he said. “Not saying that my slider is bad, but my command of it isn’t great yet. But I feel very happy with how my changeup is coming along.”

After recording 43 collegiate saves in three seasons in Coral Gables, Garcia was named National Stopper of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

The Tigers drafted him in the sixth round and put him in 17 more games after his selection.

Garcia pitched 52 games in four levels in 2017, recording a 2.13 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 17 saves, walking 22.

He went to camp last season hoping to win a spot in Detroit’s bullpen, but elbow soreness prompted a shut down and surgery.

Garcia stayed in Lakeland under the watchful eyes of medical rehab coordinator Corey Tremble and strength and conditioning coach Steve Chase, where he felt comfortable.

“They’re incredible,” Garcia said. “They did everything perfect. I had no complaints. Everything was catered to you, it was exactly what you’d expect.”

This year, Garcia had just four appearances in Lakeland and three in Double-A Erie before returning to the Mud Hens. Entering Sunday, he has a 3.76 ERA over 26.1 innings pitched all season. He has struck out 33 batters and walked just eight. Since his return to Toledo, pitching coach Juan Nieves said he’s much more concerned about the health than the results.

“Thank God he’s healthy,” Nieves said. “It’s still a long ways to go, maybe another year for him.”

Per the organization’s post-Tommy John protocol, Garcia is usually getting at least one day of rest after one-inning appearances, and at least two days after two-inning outings.

On off-days, Nieves said Garcia does light “touch and feel” non-throwing sessions off the mound to keep himself sharp.

“Each time I see him pitch, it looks like the locations get more consistent, the stuff’s been good,” Tigers minor league pitching instructor A.J. Sager said. “His fastball is back and just the location overall of the stuff continues to get better.

“But he’s doing a real nice job, progressing well, and the big thing is feeling well. So that’s exciting.”

Garcia credits the centering of his life off the field without baseball for the success on it.

“I kind of took the time to figure myself out and realize who I want to be just in life, not just a baseball player. I think that really helped me, my relationship with my family, my loved ones,” he said. “I think it ended up being a pretty good thing for me. Obviously you don’t want to go through a surgery like that, but I tried to make the best of it.

“This game is incredible. It saves so many lives, I think. A lot of guys wouldn’t know what to do without this game, and I always like to tell myself to never take the game for granted because the game doesn’t need you, but you need the game.

"Just try to take it one moment at a time, one day at a time and really enjoy what I’m doing out here.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.