When Christian Garcia signed with the Nationals last July, the move came with little fanfare. To the naked eye, he was a 25 (almost 26) year old RHP who had spent parts of the last 7 years in the Yankees organization, never rising above AA ball. On top of all of that, he was also recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. He was seen as organizational fodder or a shot in the dark, and as a result threw his 20 and 1/3 innings of 2.66 ERA ball in Auburn and Syracuse with little fanfare (despite having fantastic peripheral stats like a 1.3 BB/9 and 13/3 K/9).
Since I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with the minor leagues, I had an opinion on him when he signed (7/28/2011): "The 2004 3rd round pick by the Yankees was once a promising prospect, but has seen his career shred to pieces by injuries over the years, most recently with his second Tommy John surgery in 2010. At only 25 (26 in August), his baseball life is still relatively young, and if he can stay healthy (which is a huge, ginormous IF), he could still be a solid ML pitcher."
Basically, all Garcia has done since then is get healthy. He was a perennially good pitcher with the Yankees' organization, posting a 3.65 ERA and strong strikeout numbers (albeit with command issues) in his time with their system. From the moment he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2004 and converted from a catcher to a pitcher to today, he's always been a good pitcher when he's been able to throw. Garcia was ranked by Baseball America as the Yankees' #4 prospect after 2004, #8 after 2005, #14 after 2006 (when he had his first Tommy John surgery) and #17 after 2008 (before his second TJ). John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated Garcia as #9 in the Yankees organization with a C+ grade in 2005, #9/C+ in 2006, #9/B- in 2007 and #17/C+in 2009.
Before he tore his elbow up in 2006, Garcia was known as a fastball-curveball pitcher who seemed to be destined for the bullpen due to a lack of a third pitch (even though the other two were plus pitches). His curveball, in fact, was ranked as the best in the Yankees' system by Baseball America after the 2004, 2005 and 2008 seasons. After his first Tommy John surgery, he developed a solid changeup, good enough for Baseball America to note that some Yankees people felt it was their system's best. Garcia predictably lost some velocity after Tommy John surgery, but has recovered to the point that he can hit 97 MPH on the radar gun again with a filthy fastball that has more moves than Matt Hendricks in a shootout. The 2011-12 success Garcia has achieved isn't due to deception or being crafty; he's just a damn good pitcher that is better than the opposition.
Since returning from his second Tommy John and signing with the Nationals organization, Garcia has dominated his opponents. I thought his 2011 stat line was impressive, but he currently has an 0.79 ERA and 16 saves in 45 and 1/3 innings between Harrisburg and Syracuse, posting a 3.0 BB/9 and 12.1 K/9. What's truly amazing is that he has only allowed 22 hits this season (4.4 H/9), including only 9 in 25 and 1/3 innings for Syracuse. Garcia's numbers are borderline unreal this season and he deserves to get the call to the bigs that he's getting next month.
Time can only tell if Garcia will become a solid ML pitcher or not. Don't expect him to be afraid of injuring his elbow again, though. As he told Josh Norris in the article below when asked if he thinks about it happening again, "No, not at all. You can't play like that." That kind of tenacity is always welcome on the big league squad. We'll see if he can push the rest of the staff even harder as they close out the season.
If you're new to Garcia's story, I highly recommend reading the following 2 articles to catch up on it:
Christian Garcia's ready for his third chance (Josh Norris, the Trentonian, 4/27/2012)
Tommy John Times Two: How RHP Christian Garcia is on the Road to Recovery (Kevin Brown, Inside the Chiefs, 9/5/2011)