A lack of experience in the upper minors be damned, a potent, improved arsenal has shown that the Astros’ top pitching prospect belongs in The Show.
Merely a year after pitching in A-ball, Luis García was asked to start Game 5 of the 2020 American League Championship Series. Such a massive leap was not supposed to be apart of the top prospect’s developmental path going into 2020, but out of necessity, the Astros were forced to call upon their young hurler during the regular season and again in the postseason.
Ahead of 2021, it was expected that García would return to the minors to garner more seasoning, but once again, due to a plethora of injuries to the Astros’ pitching depth, García is needed in the big leagues. Though he’s only logged 20 innings in 5 games (3 starts) thus far, there’s reason to believe the Venezuelan native will not require any time in the upper minors.
García, who The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked No. 67 in his Top 100 prospect rankings, was initially slated to be a swingman, but with Jake Odorizzi recently suffering an injury himself, García has been thrust back into the rotation. Now fully stretched out, García has fared well in his past two starts, including one at baseball’s launching pad, Coors Field, where he went 5.2 innings and allowed only two runs while striking out 6.
Currently, the 24-year-old rookie ranks second on the starting staff in terms of whiff rate, behind Lance McCullers Jr. This isn’t a surprising development given García’s renowned repertoire as a prospect. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen projects García’s changeup as a plus pitch. Combined with 2020, it’s been thrown 81 times in the bigs and has a whiff rate just north of 45 percent. The league average is 32 percent.
The changeup had long been García’s primary secondary offering, but something’s happened with his breaking stuff this year. A high-70s slider (that acts more as a slurve) had been his equalizer against right-handed hitters and is still a quality pitch, but a reshaped, mid- to upper-80s cutter (that acts more as a slider) has been an absolutely devastating pitch thus far in 2021, evidenced by its absurd 58.1 percent whiff rate, as well as a thoroughly impressive 47.8 percent chase rate. Both are well above the league average.
Small sample size aside, it appears the pitch was overhauled during the offseason. Its average velocity has increased by almost 1.5 mph (while the four-seam fastball’s average velo has remained roughly the same) and its average spin rate is up by more than 100 RPMs. Moreover, its horizontal movement has increased substantially despite the concurrent increase in velo, which is fairly irregular.
— Dan (@Dan_Martin4) May 2, 2021
With his revamped breaking balls and deadly changeup, García has the tools to be effective against both righties and lefties. It bodes well for him that a mid-90s four-seamer with quality vertical movement might end up being his third best pitch.
The season is young and 20 innings is 20 innings, but the gains that have been made from a pitch movement and velocity standpoint indicate that García’s present stuff is quite formidable. Although his best years are likely well ahead of him, it’s apparent that his current collection of pitches is more than good enough to yield success at the big-league level in 2021.
The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant