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Pandemic puts MLB pitching prospect’s dream on hold

Former MSU Denver baseball standout Julian Garcia was poised for a breakout summer. Now, he’s back in Colorado training for an opportunity to take the mound again.

August 25, 2020

By Rob White

This might have been the summer that minor-league pitcher Julian Garcia got his shot at “The Show.”

The former Metropolitan State University of Denver star right-hander ended the 2019 baseball season in Class AA and arrived at spring training 2020 with an opportunity to pitch his way into more prominent plans for the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He even appeared in a big-league spring-training game.

But, as for so many Americans, COVID-19 had other plans, and Garcia has been waiting out the pandemic at home in Colorado since mid-March.

“It’s just been crazy because I went into early camp and did well,” he said. “I had a really good month before camp started, getting my innings in and getting my pitch count up. It stinks because I ended up in Double A last year and this is a year where I could have opened some more eyes or maybe even get a chance to help out the big-league team.”

Garcia watched as the minor-league season was canceled and the Major League Baseball season delayed. When MLB teams each were allowed to bring 60 players to their summer camp to prepare for the truncated season, Garcia didn’t make the cut.

“The 60-man roster came out, and the Phillies wanted to go with the guys they know,” he said. “They went with more of a veteran approach. And why not? You can win a World Series after 60 (regular-season) games. It’s understandable, but at the same time COVID ruined a big year for me.”

MSU Denver’s highest draft pick ever, Garcia was selected in the 10th round in 2016 and has made steady progress up the developmental ladder, working through four minor-league levels to reach Class AA last year. Between “high” Class A Clearwater (Fla.) and Class AA Reading (Pa.), Garcia was 9-8 with a 3.58 ERA while striking out 120 in 125 1/3 innings in 2019.

PREVIOUSLY: Inside Julian Garcia's life in the Philadelphia Phillies' farm system

This year likely would have seen him start back in Class AA with the opportunity to earn a promotion to Class AAA. Once in Class AAA, it’s typically just a matter of time before a player gets a chance to go to the majors.

Now, though, Garcia hopes to regain some of that lost developmental time during baseball’s offseason, which can involve instructional-league play at spring-training complexes, the higher-profile Arizona Fall League or myriad opportunities to play in leagues in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela or Australia, among other places.

Former MSU Denver standout pitcher Julian Garcia was the University
Former MSU Denver standout pitcher Julian Garcia was the University's highest draft pick ever, selected in the 10th round in 2016. Photo by Nathan Ray / Clearwater Threshers.

“That’s something I’m holding on to,” Garcia said. “The Phillies have done a great job staying in contact with everyone. We get a call three days a week from three different people checking up on us and keeping us in the loop.

“Winter ball is still up in the air, but they are trying to figure out if there can be an instruct (instructional) league for us or an extended fall league, maybe playing in Australia. It’s just tough because you don’t know what is going to happen with this virus.”

RELATED: Here's how MSU Denver's spring sports coaches helped student-athletes deal with the disappointment of COVID-19 cancellations

Garcia’s role since March, he said, has been simple, though frustrating.

“Staying in shape is my role right now,” he said. “It’s tough, but hopefully we’ll get some answers soon.”

He’s been working out with other professional players who are in similar situations, trying to stay sharp while waiting for a chance to play a season – any season.

“We’re all still grinding away,” Garcia said. “It’s nice to have other pro guys around to lean on each other. Because we’re all in the same situation. We’re all in limbo.”

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