Roel Garcia has the best arm on the Rice baseball pitching staff, but whether or not he ever pitches again for the Owls remains an unanswered question.
Rice baseball head coach Matt Bragga has coached many talented pitchers over his 20+ year coaching career. In terms of raw ability, few measure up to Owls’ hurler Roel Garcia.
Garcia had the best stuff on the Rice staff in 2020. The righty is unquestionably among, if not atop, the list of the best arms Bragga has ever worked with. That’s part of what makes the joint tenure of Garcia and Bragga at Rice disappointing. A player who had the potential to be the staff ace could leave south main without ever throwing a pitch for Bragga at Reckling Park.
An injury wiped out all of Garcia’s 2019 campaign. His recovery process bled into 2020, where he was expected to ease into a spot in the Rice weekend rotation. He threw two innings in a road start at UC Irvine, striking out three and allowing no runs. After the start, he was promptly shut down.
It’s possible he could have returned at the tail end of the season, but the chances of him becoming a weekend staple came to a screeching halt in February. A month later, the season was suspended, putting the end to any chance of Garcia pitching for Rice in 2020. The question hanging in the air is this: has Garcia’s Rice baseball career come to an end?
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There are several factors impacting where Garcia ends up in 2021. Health is first and foremost. If Garcia can get back to his usual self, his opportunities will increase significantly.
Then comes the MLB Draft, which will reportedly be shortened to as few as five rounds and pushed back to July. Even hurt, Garcia stands a decent chance to be selected. He was a 27th round pick last year without throwing a pitch. With the draft being trimmed significantly, the odds of Garcia elevating himself to that level seem less likely, but not impossible.
Should Garcia return, the NCAA’s proposed eligibility changes would make him a junior again. That would give him leverage in the 2021 draft, with the ability to return for another collegiate season in 2022.
Bragga has been an adamant supporter of Garciasince he arrived at Rice. “I want what’s best for Roel,” Bragga said, speaking of the junior’s uncertain future. There’s a real chance the Owls’ won’t see Garcia on the mound in Houston ever again. Or he could be their No. 1 for the next two seasons. There’s so much in the air right now.
No matter how things play out, Garcia’s talent and personality have made an impact on his teammates and the program. For now, we (and Garcia) just have to wait.