Rico Garcia got his first taste of the major leagues with the Colorado Rockies in 2019. Although the right-handed pitcher appeared in just two MLB games, it was a dream come true for the Saint Louis and Hawaii Pacific alum.
Garcia, who is the only other HPU alum besides Benny Agbayani to appear in an MLB game, is now a member of the San Francisco Giants organization after being claimed off waivers last winter. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Garcia made the most of his spring training invite and looked comfortable with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings over his six relief appearances.
“In my mind, I thought I made the team just because before this whole thing happened, I was still in big league spring training,” Garcia told KHON2’s Alan Hoshida. “My mentality was it’s kind of my spot to lose and I just had to keep working at it every single day, even if we’re all the way out in the islands. There’s always gonna be someone working harder in a different city or country.”
After coronavirus concerns halted sports leagues across the country for an indefinite amount of time, Garcia headed home to the islands in March. With gyms and parks closed for a portion of his home quarantine, he had to get creative to keep his arm in shape.
“One of my friends gave me a net and I don’t have the luxury of a huge yard so I had to throw on my driveway,” he said. “Kind of a brutal setup but I tried to do with what I had and eventually the parks opened up and it made my life a lot easier.”
Garcia was a starter at HPU before getting selected in the 30th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Rockies. In his minor league career, 72 of his 85 appearances were starts. The Giants plan to use him primarily as a reliever.
“When I first came with the Giants, I was pretty much a starter throughout my whole career,” Garcia said. “I think they wanted to move me to the bullpen just to see how I bounce back day by day and I think they liked what they saw the first couple of outings and they want to keep riding on that.
“The starter and reliever mentalities are a little different. The biggest thing that I learned was preparation and how you attack hitters, that was just one of the biggest things I learned being a reliever and I’m ready to take on the role, whatever they give me.”
With rosters expanding to 60-man player pools in advance of MLB playing regular season games on July 23, more players than usual will be getting an opportunity to earn playing time. The expanded roster appears to favor pitchers for the first part of the season, as more relievers are likely to be used since starters may not be ready for long innings right away. That bodes well for Garcia, but he maintains that there’s more work to be done.
“The job’s not over at all still,” he said. I still have to make the team and I guess it’s just having that underdog mentality that keeps pushing me this entire time and it’s amazing to be here. It’s a blessing and I’m glad I’m with a great organization.”