Yankees find powerful prospect after canceling Shohei Ohtani experiment

The Yankees had dreams of their version of Shohei Ohtani.

Dermis Garcia had his own dreams to consider.

“All of my life — all of my baseball-playing life — what I wanted to do was hit,” the Yankees’ slugging prospect, who currently is playing for High-A Tampa, said over the phone this week.

Similar words ended a brief experiment of developing a power bat into something rarer. At the end of last season, the Yankees moved Garcia, who had been a first baseman and third baseman, from the corners to the mound, wanting to see how the live arm from a 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect could translate. They had whiffed on signing Ohtani, whom they watched excel on both sides with the Angels, earning Rookie of the Year honors.

If the Yankees still envision their own answer to Ohtani, Garcia hopes it’s not him. In all, he said, the trial lasted three weeks. A Yankees executive said Garcia has placed the experiment on the “back-burner.”

Free of secondary burdens, Garcia “is proving to the organization, ‘I don’t want to be a pitcher. I’m a position player,’ ” said his manager, Aaron Holbert.

Entering Wednesday, the 21-year-old was tied atop the Florida State League with 10 home runs in 40 games. His 32 RBIs were best in the league. Garcia — a 16-year-old Dominican prospect who was ranked by MLB.com as No. 1 in the 2014 international class (which also brought in top-prospect Estevan Florial) — has begun to show signs of living up to his potential, posting a .248 average and .821 OPS.

It has been a journey for the right-handed hitter, who arrived in the United States in 2015 at 17 years old and batted .159 in his first, 23-game stint in the Gulf Coast League.

“What I think I have to do is to learn to lay off bad pitches, to concentrate on the strike zone and to work on my defense,” Garcia said through a translator.

The long-term Yankees project — solely as a hitter now — who has struggled to make contact has, well, continued struggling to make contact this year. The Yankees want him to cut down on his strikeouts, which reached 49 in his first 141 at-bats this season. The too-high 35 percent is about in line with his production last year at Single-A Charleston.

Holbert said he has seen steadily improving at-bats from Garcia, and while his plate discipline needs work, it will come.
Up to a point, at least.

“We’d love to see him be more patient,” Holbert said, but “big power hitters are going to strike out.”

And when Garcia connects, he shows off the raw power the Yankees originally identified.

“I’m learning what I have to do to hit,” Garcia said.

Holbert praised the “all-around baseball acumen” of a player who was drafted as a shortstop, moved to third, takes ground balls all around the infield, but has settled at first. Garcia is learning his way around the position, and is likely not fast enough to move off of it.

“He’s big, strong and willing to work,” Holbert said.

In a system with a dearth of top-quality first basemen beneath major leaguers Luke Voit and Greg Bird, Garcia, the Yankees’ No. 27 prospect, has room to ascend. He had bounced between short-season stints from 2015-17, but is finally emerging as the developmental prize the Yankees signed for $3.2 million.

Before the season began, without pitching in his peripheries, Garcia set a goal.

“I wanted to help my team 100 percent,” he said, “and hopefully even make the major leagues this year.”

It’s a distant dream, but he’s keeping it in sight. First with his conviction, then with his persuasion, and now with his bat.

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