By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – The life of a minor league baseball player isn’t always easy – particularly if you’re not from the United States.
The Altoona Curve have four players from the Dominican Republic and manager Michael Ryan is aware of the difficulties those young people face in a different country.
“The transition to the game of baseball is not as difficult as the living part,” Ryan said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “Speaking the language is the big thing. You’ve got to order food and learn to cook for yourself
“It’s extremely difficult for those guys.”
The Curve’s four Dominican-born players are pitchers Yeudy Garcia and Miguel Rosario and infielders Edwin Espinal and Pablo Reyes.
“The game is the easy part for them because it’s where they feel the most comfortable,” Ryan noted. “The language difference can be a tough adjustment, but the Pirates organization does a good thing because they provide English classes which help them get accustomed to the way things are done here.”
Garcia finished high school when he was only 16 years old and signed with the Pirates as an international free agent on Oct. 12, 2013 when he was 20.
He pitched for the Dominican Summer League Pirates in 2014, compiling a 4-3 record and 2.41 ERA in 13 starts.
Garcia pitched for low-A West Virginia in 2015 and had an outstanding season, posting a 12-5 record and 2.10 ERA in 30 games – 21 starts.
“It’s hard being away from my family, but I like it here,” Garcia said through teammate/interpreter Luis Heredia.
“In spring training, I never thought I’d go to West Virginia,” Garcia said. “I thought I’d go to the Gulf Coast League Pirates like most of the other rookies.
“The Dominican Summer League is like a rookie league,” Garcia said. “West Virginia is a lot different – more prospects, more talent.”
Garcia was more than ready for West Virginia and the South Atlantic League, though. He was named the SAL’s pitcher of the month in July when he went 6-0 with an 0.90 ERA in 30 innings. He was selected to the SAL mid-season and post-season all-star teams, and was named the Pirates’ minor league pitcher of the year.
That fine season earned Garcia a promotion to advanced-A Bradenton in 2016 and he helped the Marauders win the Florida State League championship. His numbers at Bradenton included a 6-8 record and 2.76 ERA in 25 starts as well as 127 strikeouts in 127.1 innings.
“He was in our rotation all year, and gave us a chance to win every fifth day he was out there,” said Ryan, who also managed Bradenton last season. “He was really good in the playoffs and helped us win the championship. He was a valuable piece to a memorable season.”
“A lot of the same guys are here that were in Bradenton,” Garcia said. “We have a good mix and the same manager. He pushes us to get better and we never give up.”
Now that he’s in the Double-A Eastern League, Garcia gets to take a turn batting, unlike the lower minor leagues.
“It makes it a little more fun,” he said of the opportunity to hit in a game. “You have more energy.”
Ryan is impressed with the pitching of Garcia, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander.
“He’s got really good stuff,” Ryan said. “His fastball has life, his slider is good, with some bite, and his change keeps hitters off balance.
“His job is to get those three pitches working at the same time.”