Bonita's Garza stands tall on mound

LA VERNE -- Justin Garza is too small, some naysayers say. He's too short, too skinny. His baggy baseball uniform accentuates these points.

The radar gun, though, doesn't discriminate. If a pitch is fast or slow, it'll say so. The 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher has been making the gun blush a whole lot lately, lighting it up to as high as 95 miles per hour.

That's a tall number.

"People like what they've seen from Justin, but in the pro world they want you to be 6-feet-1 or bigger," Bonita head coach John Knott says.

Garza, a converted shortstop, burst onto the scene last year, winning all 13 of his starts and allowing about half a run per game. He topped out at 83 miles per hour as a sophomore, meaning he had to learn how to pitch -- how to live on the corners and mix pitches -- before the velocity came.

"No one expected it, I didn't even expect it," says Garza, a Cal State Fullerton signee. "The main thing was to not stay content. Most people my age would say, 'I have a scholarship, I don't have to work anymore.' That's not the case with me."

Driven by critiques on his stature, Garza rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. every day last summer. He logged five-mile runs to strengthen his lower body. He lifted weights and did countless squats. He began a rigorous long-toss program and, soon, his pitches picked up speed.

The hard work paid dividends at the MLB Urban Youth preseason showcase in February, when Garza registered the second-fastest pitch, next only to elite prospect Lucas Giolito, a 6-6 right-hander out of Harvard-Westlake. Two weeks later, scouts flocked to Bonita's season opener under the lights. Garza didn't disappoint, striking out nine in a 6-0 victory over neighboring rival Damien.

"What comes with the added attention, with the scouts, with the fact that he's going to Fullerton, with his stats, it's that people want to knock him off the block," Knott says. "It's one thing to get to that high point but it's another to be able to stay there. He's at that point. I'd love to say it's going to be easy for him but I know it's not. I know it's going to be real tough. That's the challenge: Realizing you have a target on your back."

In Garza's eyes, there's still much to prove.

"People telling me I'm too small to pitch," Garza says with a wry smile. "That motivates me."

Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.