No trouble with the curve
Former MSU Denver pitcher Julian Garcia has a firm grip on life in the Philadelphia Phillies' farm system.
On the Colorado Rockies’ opening day this year, most fans had their sights set on a cold beer, a hot dog and hopefully a victory from their beloved bat-and-ball men.
As the Rockies were beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1, Julian Garcia – a former three-year member of MSU Denver’s baseball team – was at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida, trying to make another stride in a journey he hopes will someday lead to the majors.
In the classroom, Garcia is a senior sports management major and plans to fulfill a promise to his father by completing his degree in the near future. In fact, the Phillies included tuition reimbursement in his contract.
The Phillies drafted the 6-foot, 3-inch right-hander with their first pick in the 10th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft and sent him to the New York-Penn League’s Williamsport Crosscutters, which is the organization’s Class A-short season affiliate.
On the field, the 21-year-old says he’s improved over last year by adding a few more pitches to his repertoire and a little extra velocity on his fastball.
We caught up with Garcia as he was awaiting this season’s assignment, which he hopes is a roster spot on the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws in New Jersey.
How’s life in the minors?
Right now, spring training is a pretty good time. I’m in Florida, but it’s a struggle, too, because I’m far from my family. That’s weird. It’s the first time I’ve ever been away from Colorado. I grew up in Fort Collins and went to college in Denver. It’s kind of weird being in a small city compared to Denver. I’m used to having the life of a big city right up the street.
What’s the difference between college and the pros?
I was amazed they care so much. You’ve signed on to a team that has everything figured out. I just buried my head and went with it. I’m kind of their property now, but as far as pitching, I was taught a lot more things. And it’s helped. I try to follow everything as much as possible. And there’s a job for everybody – there’s a video guy, there’s a nutritionist, there’s strength and conditioning guys, and they are here for you. You have all the guidelines there for you.
Are you working as a starter or a reliever?
I started a bit in Williamsport last year, but I relieve as well. I came off a long season at MSU Denver last year, so my arm was a bit fatigued. Right now, I believe I’m a reliever. If I got called for a start, though, I’m ready for it. Right now, I’ve seen a couple guys get turned into relievers from starters just because how many pitchers we have. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get the ball in my hands and get on the mound.
How’s your pitching progressing?
[You must] be patient and don’t expect anything that shouldn’t be expected. The biggest challenge is mechanical – how to be a better pitcher. The mental game is so much bigger than just going out there and pitching. I never thought I’d be sitting in the same room as Roy Halladay, and he’s telling us yesterday how he went through the struggle in the minors, then we watched his World Series no-hitter. He went through the struggle and told us to be patient and that it doesn’t come overnight.
Where do you want to be at the end of spring training?
As of right now, I want to break with a team. If I don’t break with a team, I want to learn more about pitching and the mental side of baseball. I want to get more pitches locked down. I want to keep my ERA below two. I want to learn how get guys out and get shutdown innings.
What are your long-term baseball goals?
I never really have put a number on when my career ends. I could be released tomorrow, so I want to give it my best shot and go until my body says, ‘No.’ Time will tell if I don’t have it. I want to keep playing as long as they let me.
Who’s your baseball role model?
I was a big Cardinals fan when I was young, so I loved Albert Pujols. Right now, I’d like to be like Marcus Stroman – he’s a big excitement guy. He brings it for the fans. He’s a small guy and it’s fun to watch him as a pitcher and how he goes about his game.
What’s the worst hotel you’ve stayed in on the road?
I’ll say in Batavia, New York. It was one of those hole-in-the-wall places – you don’t want to be there multiple nights in a row. It’s a couple of miles from Buffalo, and I got to see Niagara Falls, but it was not the nicest place. That was probably the roughest one I’ve had to endure.