2012 Player Review: Christian Garcia
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we look at perhaps the most surprising contributor this season, reliever Christian Garcia.
Most Nationals fans had never heard of Christian Garcia at the beginning of Spring Training. Nearly all knew his name by the time the 2012 season was over. An impressive stint as a September call-up gave Washington another promising power arm near the back of the bullpen. But you have to look beyond Garcia’s accomplishments once he got that call-up to understand just how good of a year he had already put together before ever reaching the Major Leagues in the first place.
In 58 relief appearances between Double-A Harrisburg, Triple-A Syracuse and Washington, the 27 year-old righty went 2-1 with a 1.11 ERA (8 ER/65.0 IP), converting all 21 of his save opportunities (all in the minors). He allowed just 58 baserunners (39 hits, 19 walks), good for a 0.89 WHIP, while striking out 81 batters, a rate of better than 11 per nine innings pitched. Those are the type of eye-popping, head-turning numbers that accompany an arsenal topped by a high 90s fastball and a late-breaking, hard-diving slider, like the one Garcia possesses when he is healthy.
Unfortunately, those last four words – when he is healthy – have followed Garcia around for much of his career and adversely impacted his Major League aspirations. Formerly a starter in the Yankees system, the 6’5” righty was originally drafted in the third round out of high school by New York back in 2004, but had never advanced beyond Triple-A. While his career Minor League numbers – a 3.22 ERA and 10.1 K/9 IP – showed his potential, Garcia had been sidelined with elbow trouble, undergoing not one, but two Tommy John surgeries to replace the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.
While an often daunting rehab process awaits, with advancements in modern medicine, today’s pitchers have achieved remarkable recovery rates from a single Tommy John surgery. However, considering how crucial the UCL is to the success of a pitcher, it should come as no surprise that patients who have undergone multiple surgeries, as Garcia has, face an even more challenging road to recapturing their original form. For him to be pitching at all, much less to the degree of success he found in 2012, is already remarkable. It also explains why the Nationals were able to ever have the chance to sign a talent like Garcia to a minor league free agent deal in the first place.
There is some debate as to whether Garcia will return to a starter’s role in 2013, or work out of the bullpen. One thing is for sure – the Nationals found a diamond in the rough in Garcia, who will no doubt be a prime candidate to compete for a spot on the staff this spring.