BRADENTON, Fla. - Luis Garcia was just another red jersey on Wednesday afternoon, playing out a minor-league spring-training game on the backfields of the Phillies complex. The nameplate on his uniform top was blank, providing a cloak of anonymity in front of the group of fans who watched free-of-charge from the aluminum bleachers.
But, after the game, Garcia was pulled aside by Andy Abad, one of the team’s minor-league coordinators. The 18-year-old shortstop -- ranked this winter by Baseball America as the Phillies’ second-best prospect -- was headed to the major leagues. At least, for one day.
“It was funny,” Garcia said. “He asked me if I was scared, and I said, ‘No. I’m ready.’ ”
Garcia found himself Thursday in a major-league clubhouse, shaking hands with a major-league manager, boarding a major-league bus, and playing the final innings of a major-league spring game.
The Phillies called over the prospect from minor-league camp to be an extra player for their 11-2 loss to the Pirates. Garcia saw little action in his five innings, struck out against a 95-mph fastball in his lone at-bat, sat in a dugout with major leaguers, and used the defensive positioning cards that the Phillies supply their major-league fielders.
For a teenager the Phillies covet, it was a day in the big leagues.
“It was really special,” Garcia said.
The Phillies signed Garcia in July 2017 for $2.5 million, the largest investment the team has spent on the international market since Matt Klentak became the general manager. Garcia said it was the best day of his life. You can only imagine, Garcia said, how excited he was.
He garnered a large bonus because of his smooth defense and his strong bat, which the Phillies projected could hit at the top of a major-league lineup. He began his professional career last summer by proving them right. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Garcia batted .369 with a .433 on-base percentage in 43 games in the Gulf Coast League.
Garcia, a switch hitter, was nearly three years younger than the league’s average hitter, yet he led the GCL in average and hits, ranked third in on-base percentage and RBIs, and had the sixth-highest OPS. Garcia was just as good in the field, as his .969 fielding percentage led all shortstops in the league. He might start this season at single-A Lakewood.
“To me, what I enjoy the most or what I see myself doing the best is playing the infield,” Garcia said. “I love it. It’s fun. But, I also know that I have to become a really good hitter to play in the big leagues. I can’t forget about that.”
Manager Gabe Kapler entered the Phillies clubhouse in Clearwater on Thursday morning to find Garcia sitting with the group of minor-leaguers who had shuffled across the complex to join the big-leaguers on their hour-long trip to play the Pirates. The manager had heard about Garcia’s success last season and was told that the teenager has “a legitimate shot” to hit in the majors. He was eager to meet him.
A few hours later, Kapler stood on the dugout’s top step as Garcia stepped in against Pirates righthander Clay Holmes, a 25-year-old with big-league experience. Garcia fouled off a couple of pitches before striking out. The blowout loss was just a few outs from being finished, and Garcia was wearing a high-number on his back without a name plate. Again, he was just another red jersey. But, for this day, he was a red jersey in the big leagues.
“One of the things we try to remind ourselves in the dugout is that, despite the score in a spring-training game, that moment is the biggest moment of a young player’s life,” Kapler said. “Obviously, the result of the at-bat wasn’t what he wanted. But you saw the dig in, and you saw the grit.”
He added: “Not enough to glean a whole lot or make any bold predictions, but it looked good today.”