As player salaries skyrocket with each passing season, teams continue to place a greater emphasis on developing cost-effective talent by any means. Included is the international free agent market with foreign-born players signing shortly after their 16th birthday in more cases. In 2014, the Yankees aggressively used the international free agent market to their advantage, spending nearly $14 million on 22 players, including shortstop Wilkerman Garcia, the 16th best prospect in the organizational pipeline.
During the 2014 signing period, multiple teams expressed keen interest in Garcia’s services, but it was the Yankees who acted most aggressively, offering a $1.35 million signing bonus to the Maracay, Venezuela native. He made his professional debut in 2015 and affirmed the faith of the organization, posting a .281/.396/.347 slash line with the Gulf Coast Yankees and equally boasted similar potential defensively with quick reflexes at shortstop.
“Many teams had discussions with me at the time. I didn’t expect to sign with the Yankees, but they came last and made the best offer,” Garcia said through Staten Island manager and interpreter Julio Mosquera. “There wasn’t a huge adjustment for me coming into professional baseball after I signed because the game is the same at any level.”
The expectations continued to rise for Garcia, and he appeared ready to progress as a top prospect in 2016 with the Pulaski Yankees, but a shoulder injury derailed those goals, and his numbers plummeted significantly. Garcia collected just 44 hits in 222 at-bats, while his strikeout rate doubled from the prior season. He initially injured his shoulder during spring training and found himself compensating for the pain.
“A lot of people can have a bad year,” Garcia said. “I made some adjustments during the year to stay on my leg. I’m still working on making those refinements at the plate. I hurt my shoulder swinging the bat, and the rehab process was complicated. When I started feeling good, I would suffer a relapse, and it was difficult. Over time, I began to heal, and I recovered.”
Garcia relied on the coaching staff throughout the process and learned to focus on the aspects of the game that were in his control. Thanks to a positive mentality, Garcia chose to look ahead and always made himself open to instruction and advice. He also avoided negative thoughts and prevented his struggles from compounding and affecting other aspects of his game, which is a major concern for most young players.
“The coaching staff is always on top of me. They are always teaching me and never push me aside. One of the things that always helps me is that I never have the idea that things will end up going wrong in some way. I always thought the only outcome would be a positive one and it’s allowed me to handle myself the right way and develop properly.”
In his age-19 season, Garcia joins the Staten Island Yankees and becomes one of the youngest players in the New York-Penn League. He features an above-average throwing arm and good running speed. He has an advanced approach at the plate considering his age and avoids chasing too many pitches. The challenge for Garcia is whether he can add some power to compliment his offensive tools and remain healthy from a physical standpoint.
“We hold high expectations for all of our players, but with him specifically, we want him to play the game the right way. He had a lot of talent, and we hope it can take over,” Mosquera said. “I don’t think he will get down on himself. He understands a lot about the game. The talent is there and has the whole package.”
In recent years, the Yankees have placed a premium on drafting or signing middle infielders who can benefit the organization in the future. Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo are the most prominent of the group, but others such as Garcia are also highly touted and are making a name for themselves with their youth and future promise.