By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Jaime Garcia, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
2011 season: 32 G, 194.2 IP, 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 156 K, 50 BB
The St. Louis Cardinals have been a winning team in recent seasons. They’ve taken home four division titles in the past eight years, as well as two World Series titles in the past six. A lot of the credit for that success has been given to Albert Pujols, and rightfully so, but he was not the only reason for the Cardinals’ winning ways. The team has always fielded a quality pitching staff, even when their starters weren’t expected to do big things. One of the most recent St. Louis hurlers to make a name for himself is Garcia, who will be counted on to carry a big load in his third Major League season.
The left-hander came out firing during his rookie campaign, posting a 2.70 ERA in 163.1 innings and finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. His ERA wasn’t quite as shiny last year, but overall, Garcia might have been a better pitcher. He pitched over 30 more innings, and while he allowed more hits – something that could have simply been the result of bad luck – he lowered his walk rate significantly while keeping his whiff rate virtually the same.
Garcia cannot overpower hitters, as his fastball hovers around 90 mph, but he is nonetheless able to keep them off-balance. Like many Dave Duncan disciples, Garcia has learned to make the most of what he has. Though his four-seamer is hittable, his cutter and curveball have both been quality pitches for the duration of his career. His changeup also progressed greatly last season, giving him yet another weapon that hitters have to be mindful of.
Working with a talented defensive catcher (Yadier Molina) and a touted pitching coach (Duncan) has definitely helped Garcia become a quality hurler, but the 25-year-old southpaw will have to continue to progress. With Chris Carpenter possibly out for several months, if not the entire season, Garcia will be counted upon to carry a heavier load for the Cardinals. Surpassing 200 innings pitched for the first time would be a good start, and it is more likely to happen now that the micro-managing Tony La Russa has retired. The return of Adam Wainwright will likely get most of the attention, but the progression of Garcia is something to keep an eye on. If he continues to improve and benefits from better luck this year, he could again post one of the best ERAs in the NL.
Next up on March 28: Los Angeles Dodgers