‘The Drone’ is buzzing, but will Yhoswar Garcia be the Phillies’ future in center field?
The Phillies are hoping they hit it big with Garcia, a self-proclaimed six-tool prospect who could be poised to man center field one day.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — On the last swing of his third round of batting practice here the other day, with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long seated nearby, Yhoswar Garcia drove a ball deep to center field. He watched it for a moment, then hopped out of the batting cage as if taking a first step in a faux home-run trot.
The Drone was buzzing. At last.
It has taken a couple of years. Garcia signed with the Phillies for $2.5 million on March 14, 2020, three days after the pandemic abruptly ended spring training. Since then, thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions and an injury, he has played a total of 18 games in low-A ball and been largely out of public view. As much as any of the 59 minor leaguers in the Phillies’ minicamp, the 20-year-old center fielder is half-prospect, half-curiosity, even to some player-development staffers.
But for anyone who requires a scouting report, Garcia is happy to oblige.
“I consider myself a guy that has the five tools, but I think I actually have a sixth tool,” he said through a team translator last week at the Phillies’ spring-training facility. “I believe I play the game in a very intelligent way. I think about things a lot. I try to stay strong mentally. I like to be a leader as well.”
Confidence doesn’t appear to be a problem either for Garcia. It drips like sweat from his compact 6-foot, 165-pound frame. He likes designer clothing and plastering his Instagram account with pictures of himself and his white SUV. Of his ability on the baseball field, he said, “Since I was a very young age, I realized I had talent to play the game.”
Garcia, dubbed “El Dron” by his trainer back home in Venezuela because of his speed and skill in tracking fly balls, won’t reach the big leagues this year or maybe even next. But the Phillies are willing to wait, just as they did for eight months after the 2019-20 international signing period began and an investigation by Major League Baseball turned up a discrepancy with his listed birth date.
Having watched the rival Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals mine Latin America for superstars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto, respectively, the Phillies are holding out hope that they hit it big with Garcia. At a minimum, they need one of Garcia, Johan Rojas, or Símon Muzziotti to graduate to center field on an everyday basis in the majors, unlike back-to-back first-round picks Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley.
“I like all three of them,” a National League scout said. “I think they all have a chance to be everyday center fielders with a big-time tool package. The youngest one, Garcia, my gosh, he does some things on the field that are incredible to watch.”
Sal Agostinelli was similarly impressed when he saw Garcia a few years ago at the Roberto Vahlis Academy on Venezuela’s Margarita Island. The Phillies’ director of international scouting noted “tremendous bat speed” and the ability to recognize and make contact with breaking pitches. Then there was Garcia’s foot speed. He ran 60 yards in 6.3 seconds and displayed a natural athleticism that likely comes from his father, Yojanni, who played professional basketball in Venezuela.
If Garcia is being honest, basketball is his true passion. He played point guard growing up, lists Stephen Curry as his favorite player, and even built a court at his home in Venezuela to play with his father and brothers.
Why, then, did he choose to pursue a baseball career?
“I have to know where my talent is,” Garcia said, smiling to reveal braces on his top teeth. “But my passion for basketball was so much that my dad and my uncle had to sit down with me and say, ‘Hey Yhoswar, basketball is really not that popular [in Venezuela]. It’s really hard for you to become a professional and famous in basketball, so we need to focus on baseball. That’s how we can get you famous.’”
The Phillies made Garcia rich two years ago. To become famous — and to leapfrog Rojas and Muzziotti in the farm system — he needs at-bats.
Garcia had nowhere to play in 2020 after the minor-league season was canceled. He stayed in Venezuela until last March, when he finally arrived in Clearwater. The Phillies acclimated him to pro ball — and to the country — by keeping him in extended spring training. Once they finally assigned him to a minor-league team in June, he stole four bases in his first game for low-A Clearwater and hit safely in nine of his first 11 games.
But Garcia got all of 77 plate appearances before fouling a ball off his left calf and not playing again until instructional league in October. He finished the season 16-for-70 (.229) with one double, one triple, six walks, 23 strikeouts, and 10 steals in 12 attempts.
“As a scout, at times you’ve just got to go after the guy with the highest ceiling and the most talent,” Agostinelli said. “This kid, when he’s on, he’s a kid with a really advanced approach at the plate. He showed me a lot of contact skills. He’s a little dude, but he will fill out like his dad did. He can run, he can throw. He has all of the tools. All of our guys saw him. Everybody liked him.
“We need to get him 500 at-bats this year because the guy hasn’t played that much.”
First, though, Garcia is intent on getting the attention of the Phillies’ front office and coaches, who are observing the minicamp while major leaguers remain locked out during the negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement.
What better time for The Drone to appear on everyone’s radar.
“The Phillies are giving me the opportunity to show up here, so I’m just taking advantage of this minicamp,” Garcia said. “Everything that I do, it’s a step forward so they can notice me.”