It's Garza Time...Or Should It Be?

Garza tossed a three-hit gem on Tuesday.

In our latest from Seth, he examines whether or not the Twins should call up super-prospect Matt Garza, especially after his three-hit performance for the Red Wings on Tuesday. He takes into consideration the Adam Johnson-factor, Johnson was a former first-rounder who was rushed to the Majors, never to be heard from again.

Today, I would like to discuss the Twins top prospect and 2005 #1 pick Matt Garza. Last night, he beat the White Sox with a 1-0 complete game shutout! OK, he actually beat the Charlotte Knights, the AAA Affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. In nine innings, he gave up just three hits and three walks, and he struck out eight. One of the three hits was a first inning bunt single. The win makes him 2-1 in AAA. The shutout drops his ERA to 2.05. It is just the latest highlight in a season full of highlights for the flame-throwing righty.

The question has been mentioned here and several other places in the last few weeks. Will the Twins decide to call up Matt Garza? And, equally important, should the Twins call up Matt Garza? The answer is not as simple as you would think though. Actually, if you were to ask a dozen Twins fans if Matt Garza should be called up to the Twins, you may have six say he should and six say he shouldn't. But if you asked the twelve to explain their answers, you may hear twelve different reasons for it. Today, I will give a little bit of background on Garza's season, and in the end, I will explain why I believe that the Twins should call up Matt Garza.

THE BACKGROUND

In high school, Matt Garza was a great pitcher. However, he was an incredible quarterback on his high school football team. Garza was drafted in the 40th round in 2002 by the Colorado Rockies, but he decided to go to college. It was the right decision for him. After three years of college, the Twins drafted Garza with their first round pick in the 2005 draft (25th overall) out of Fresno State University. He signed quickly with the Twins and reported to Elizabethton where he made four starts before advancing to Beloit. With the Snappers, he went 3-3 with a 3.54. His numbers were solid, but unspectacular. As a matter of fact, when I ranked the Twins prospects after the season, I had him ranked number 18. A second look at his number did show very nice peripheral numbers like K/9.

THE 2006 SEASON

And then came the 2006 season. He started the year with the Ft. Myers Miracle. He made eight starts and threw 44.1 innings there. He struck out 53 and walked just 11. He was 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.86. He was called up to AA New Britain despite the fact that Kevin Slowey had even better numbers than he did. Some commented that he was only called up first because of the signing bonus that he signed a year earlier was so much bigger than Slowey's. Of course, that probably plays a role in any organization. However, to say that (and I'm sure I may have) was really unfair to what Garza had done. He had been terrific and deserved the call. Slowey was called up later. In my June 1st Top-50 Twins Prospects, Matt Garza was already up to #1!

Double-A is generally the first place that a top pitcher drafted out of college struggles. Twins fans have seen that with Glen Perkins among others. However, Garza made ten starts and pitched 57.1 innings for the Rockcats. He struck out 68 and walked just 14. He went 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA. His WHIP was just 0.94. New Britain entered the season with five highly thought of pitching prospects in their rotation yet it was Matt Garza who was the first pitcher promoted from New Britain to Rochester earlier this month. The other prospects struggled with the Eastern League, and Garza just breezed through it. (Ironically, about a week after Kevin Slowey was promoted to New Britain, Garza moved up to Rochester.)

With last night's complete game shutout against Charlotte, Garza has now made three starts for the Red Wings. He is 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In 22 innings, he has six walks and 21 strikeouts. His WHIP is 0.82.

I think that has to be considered an absolutely remarkable season for any pitcher. Two years ago, Scott Baker moved from Ft. Myers to Rochester quickly, but not with this kind of dominance. Last year, Francisco Liriano dominated AAA after being solid but unspectacular in New Britain. I don't know if there has been another pitcher in the Twins organization, at least in recent years, that Garza can be compared to. Maybe someone out there will remember a name?

WHY NOT?

So, why not call up Matt Garza and put him in the Twins starting rotation? I mean, with the struggles of both Carlos Silva and Scott Baker, they certainly could be replaced, but there are reasons to keep Garza in Rochester.

The Adam Johnson Factor is the reason that I think most Twins fans will bring up. Adam Johnson was the Twins first round draft pick in 2000. He was taken second overall because he was willing to sign what the Twins were willing to offer. He moved up the system pretty quickly starting in Ft. Myers right after the draft. In his second season, he started at New Britain before moving up to Rochester and then making seven appearances with the Twins. He failed. He was 1-2 with an 8.28 ERA in those games. He spent all of 2003 in AAA, and in 2004, he was 0-1 with a 47.25 ERA in two games with the Twins. That was all we saw from Adam Johnson.

Although the Twins quickly called him up to their roster a year after he was drafted, a deeper look tells us that Garza and Johnson are not even comparable. When Adam Johnson was promoted from New Britain to Rochester, he was 5-6 with a 3.82 ERA. He averaged about a strikeout an inning, and 3 strikeouts per walk with a WHIP of 1.27. Those numbers were all very solid, but not even in the same neighborhood as Garza's. When Johnson was promoted from Rochester to the Twins, he was 1-1 with a 5.70 ERA in just four starts. He did have 25 strikeouts in 23.2 innings, however, he also had ten walks.

Of course there is concern about bringing up any 22 year old to the big leagues, particularly in a pennant race. The fear is that they will be brought up, put in a tough situation, crack and fail, and never be able to get over it. Remember in 1993 when the Giants had a double-digit lead over the Braves with just weeks to play. The Braves caught up and tied it forcing a one-game playoff. The Giants started a rookie named Salomon Torres, and he got lit up. He went 8-20 over the next three years and was out of baseball in 1997. (he made a comeback in 2002 and has been a solid reliever since then) To me though, that is an individual thing. I would not advocate starting a 22 year old rookie in a one-game playoff. Or would I? Don't forget that the Twins Francisco Liriano is just 22 as well! Mental toughness is very important in baseball. From all we've seen and heard about regarding Garza, he seems to have a pretty solid make up.

It is not without precedence. Even this year, several rookie pitchers have been brought up to playoff-chasing teams. The Mets promoted their 2005 top pick Mike Pelfrey from AA, and he has gone 2-1 for them. The Twins have Francisco Liriano. The Indians have Jeremy Sowers. The Phillies have Cole Hamels. You may have noticed that the Atlanta Braves are back in playoff contention. Part of their rise has been better starting pitching, and some of that credit has to go to rookie Chuck James' insertion into the rotation. The Los Angeles Angels called up Jered Weaver and all he has done is got 7-0 with a 1.15 ERA in seven starts.

My theory is that if they think that he should be called up and play a vital role in the 2006 pennant race, he needs to be brought up now, in late July or early August. To bring him up any later would really add additional pressure for him. I would want him to get a few starts under his belt before the games become must-win.

SUMMARY

In recent days, we have read that Ron Gardenhire will soon talk to Terry Ryan and when he does, Matt Garza's name will be mentioned. Garza had a nice showing in spring training, and his numbers indicate that he is about ready to help the Twins. Terry Ryan will probably talk about some of these concerns, and more, but in the end, he will two what is best for the Twins, but also for the long-term benefit of Matt Garza.

Carlos Silva pitches today's game against the Chicago White Sox. As he is getting rocked, just keep whispering Matt Garza's name in your head. Think about the three hit, complete game shutout that he threw last night in AAA. Think about the fact that, like Francisco Liriano, he is 22 years old. Remember that he has hit 97 mph on a radar gun. And then hope like crazy that Garza is not used as a trading chip at the trade deadline next week!

What are your thoughts on Matt Garza and whether or not the Twins should move him up to the big club? If you were the GM, what would you do? When would you make the move? I think it is a very interesting topic for discussion, so please email me at SethSpeaks@hotmail.net, or discuss it in the forums.

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