Elniery Garcia embarked on the 2016 season ranked as the No. 22 prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies system by Baseball America, and No. 21 on MLB.com's list midway through the season. Through the first half in 2016, the lefty has more than lived up to that bill.
"I think he's got a very high ceiling," Threshers pitching coach Aaron Fultz says. "If he's No. 21, that's very exciting for me because that means the Phillies have got a lot of really good players."
The 21-year-old from Cotui Santiago, Dominican Republic was named to the Florida State League All-Star team after going 6-2 with a 1.97 ERA through his first ten outings this year.
"The way he was using his fastball, his velocity went up a couple miles an hour," Fultz says. "Guys get really bad swings on him, they don't see the ball."
Fultz - a former Major League hurler who spent eight years in the bigs - has worked with Garcia over the last three seasons. He first coached Garcia in 2014 in Extended Spring Training and through four appearances in short-season Williamsport, as well as last summer in Low-A Lakewood, when Garcia turned heads by posting the eighth-best ERA in the South Atlantic League at 3.23.
This year, Garcia got off to a blazing start.
The Threshers lefty did not surrender a run in his first two outings, and allowed just one over 19 innings to open the year.
With an ERA that never exceeded 2.50 through mid-July, Garcia consistently ranked in the top-10 in the Florida State League in earned run average.
He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in his start at Palm Beach on July 13th, working efficiently to keep the Cardinals off balance until the bid was halted on a single with just six outs left. Garcia threw only 94 pitches in eight innings of one-hit ball to earned his eighth win of the year.
The focus for the young hurler in distinguishing himself as a big league-caliber pitcher lies in developing his breaking ball, a pitch that has flashed as a plus but has been inconsistent.
"(Fultz) told me, (I) need to be consistent in my breaking ball, to throw the slider," Garcia says.
He explains that while he can rely on just his fastball and changeup to get outs in the Florida State League, those two offerings alone will likely not be enough to control the game when it comes to facing more advanced hitters.
"Right now we're working on a slider," Fultz says. "For me, the most important thing for him is being able to command a breaking pitch, whether it be his curveball or slider, because he'll throw some really good curveballs, but it's inconsistent.
"So it's gonna work here, but in Double A the guys are going to be able to catch up to a few more fastballs. Just being able to command a breaking ball, for me, is his biggest goal."
This means not only the ability to throw his curveball over the plate, but "throwing it below the zone so he can get some more swings and misses on it," Fultz explains. "Most of his breaking balls, the hitters take."
The Dominican native has been playing baseball practically his entire life, but took to the mound when he was 14. Two years later the Philadelphia Phillies came calling, offering him a professional contract when he was 16.
In 2012, Garcia began his professional career pitching in the Dominican Summer League before moving to the States for the first time a year later, when he started nine games for the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
Garcia, who could throw in the low-90's when he signed, says his fastball has gone up a few ticks in velocity in addition to the development of his secondary offerings.
"My fastball now is more hard, I throw 95, 94. I have a two-seam now, a slider - 81-82 - my changeup," Garcia says. "I need to work on my breaking ball."
"We're still working on a few things," Fultz says.
"But he's one of my favorites."