By Rob White
Former Roadrunners star pitcher Julian Garcia is back on the mound in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
The 25-year-old right-hander’s big-league dreams were put on hold in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered Major League Baseball’s spring training and forced the cancellation of the minor-league season. But in early February, after nearly a year of pandemic limbo, Garcia got the call.
Well, not the call, the one in which the manager tells you that you’ve made the major-league team. That news is generally given in person anyway. But what Garcia heard on the other end of the line was pretty close: The Philadelphia Phillies were bringing him to the major-league portion of spring training.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” Garcia said. “Just to be playing baseball again after a year off, not competing or playing against anybody. I was pretty bored. So to get the call, no matter what camp it was, I was pretty excited.”
During the downtime, Garcia waited, working on his mechanics, staying in shape and consulting with the Phillies, who drafted him in the 10th round out of Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2016.
His slow, steady grind through the Phillies’ minor-league system – short-season Class A Williamsport (Pa.) in 2016 and 2017, low Class A Lakewood (N.J.) in 2018, then high Class A Clearwater (Fla.) and a promotion to Class AA Reading (Pa.) in 2019 – was halted just two more promotions away from the big leagues.
So, yeah, the invitation to big-league camp was special.
“You know it’s a long shot (to actually make the big-league roster),” Garcia said. “You know who you are and what’s going on. You know who is going to make the team. But you get a chance to impress people and show your skills.”
He made three appearances, got three outs, didn’t allow a hit or a run, walked two batters and struck out one.
Garcia was made available for 10 to 12 games during big-league spring training.
When Phillies ace Aaron Nola had reached his predetermined pitch count before an inning was finished in one game, Garcia got the call.
He came on and finished the inning. And, seeing that no one else was warming up in the bullpen, he went back out to the mound to pitch another inning.
But first baseman Rhys Hoskins broke it to him. Starting this season, teams were allowed to re-enter players after they had exited, something that had never been done before. And Nola was coming back to pitch some more.
“When I got back to the dugout, (managerJoe)Girardi said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, that’s our fault; things were going too fast,’”Garcia said, laughing. “But I just wanted to pitch.”
The big-league season has started with each club hosting satellite “alternate training sites” where a pool of players stays sharp and ready for potential call-ups to the major-league team. Garcia isn’t at the alternate site, but with minor-league seasons pushed back to a May start, minor-league spring training is still going on. Garcia is in Clearwater, working for a spot with Class AAA Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Pa.); a return trip to Class AA Reading is also possible.
He’s using the time to hone his mechanics; his work over the past year has helped his fastball tick up from 92 to 94 mph.
“Triple-A is the goal, and then things trickle down from there, and if I have to go to Reading, that’s still a great place to be,” Garcia said. “You have to have a (take it with a) grain-of-salt mindset.
“You are always fighting for a position.”
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