Garcia turns down $350,000 to earn a starting spot

Eduardo Almaguer / Staff Writer

Meet Aramis Garcia. Less than six months ago, he turned down over a quarter of a million dollars to play for the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization.

Instead, he is now one of the newest Golden Panthers for the upcoming 2012 baseball season.

Widely considered the steal of the Cardinals’ 2011 MLB Amateur Draft after being picked in the 20th round, the highly lauded Pines Charter high school prospect was projected to be drafted before the 10th round.

It was his strong, and often public, desire to become a Panther that scared teams away into spending a high draft pick.

According to Baseball America, one of the leading organizations in assessing prospects in high school and college, it is extremely rare for a player to be offered more than $100,000 if he was drafted after the 10th round. Garcia was offered $350,000.

“It just wasn’t a good fit,” Garcia said. “The money wasn’t there.”

Though he turned down the money, the excess signing bonus for someone drafted in his round was warranted.

In general, catchers tend to have some good power, but have below-average athleticism with mediocre arm strength.

Not Garcia.

Standing at 6-2, 200 pounds, the freshman has been praised for his above-average defense behind the plate. He has very quick feet, advanced arm strength, agility and exceptional defense. Where as the average MLB “pop” time, the time it takes to receive a pitcher’s pitch and throw from home to second base, is 1.9 seconds, Garcia has been clocked at 1.85 seconds.

Though scouts have been quick to mention his batting is nowhere near his defense, Head Coach Turtle Thomas will be the first to disagree.

“The kid has got power,” Thomas said. “He’s hit a home run in each of the last two intra-squad games we played. He definitely has a good bat.”

Just half a year ago on Aug. 15, the last day to sign with the team that drafts a player, Garcia waited until midnight to make his decision.

“My thoughts throughout the whole draft process were that I couldn’t lose. I had an opportunity to go with the Cardinals or I had an opportunity to come here,” Garcia said. “It was a win-win situation for me.”

From the moment he was drafted on June 8 until the last day to sign on Aug. 15, Garcia said that members of the FIU baseball team reached out to him several times. Thomas and Frank Damas, the associate head coach, called Garcia several times to try and get a pulse of where he was leaning and to try and convince him to attend FIU.

“In baseball, you always talk them out of signing. College is the route to go 99 percent of the time,” Thomas said. “You’re getting your education and that’s something that always remains in your hip pocket.”

Thomas and Garcia’s family were both on the same page. Garcia stressed how important it was for his family that he got an education. He plans to major in psychology so that one day he could work with athletes.

A humble person, Garcia will be the first one to tell you that his excellent skills (though he won’t say they’re excellent) were a result of countless hours of learning with several catching coaches throughout the years.

He even admits scavenging YouTube for catching tips.

“Growing up, there are some kids that are gifted with talent and then there are some kids that work hard every single day,” Garcia said. “I’m definitely in the group that works hard.”

“Some people get it and some people don’t,” Thomas added. “He gets it.”

As the season nears, Garcia has been working hard these past three weeks in baseball camp to build chemistry with his new teammates, especially the pitchers.

Adjusting to the fast-paced tempo of college baseball has been his biggest hurdle thus far.

Left-handed pitcher Mason McVay likes what he has seen so far, pointing out Garcia’s positive and energetic demeanor on the baseball field.

“He always verbally lifts up your spirits. Just him saying ‘Thattaboy! Good pitch!’ I want to put that as my ringtone,” McVay said. “I want to wake up every morning to that because you feel so good hearing his voice back you up when you throw a good pitch.”

Garcia is simply looking forward to his first season as a college ballplayer.

“Everybody on the team is telling me the season is going to be the greatest time of my life.”

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