Position: C-1B Height: 6-2 Weight: 225 Born: 1/2/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ryan Garko was a very successful college hitter at Stanford, thriving against top-notch NCAA competition for four years. His 2003 senior season as he finished third in the Pac-10 in both batting average and home runs to earn Conference Co-Player of the Year honors with Arizona State infielder Dustin Pedroia. Despite his pedigree of college success, Garko wasn't considered a hot draft pick. The Indians selected him in the third round, two or three rounds ahead of where most teams thought Garko would go. He didn't hit especially well in his first pro exposure in the New York-Penn League, hitting .273 but without much power after signing. But Garko made quick adjustments in 2004, coming out of the gate on fire at Class A Kinston. After dominating the Carolina League in the first half, he earned a promotion to Double-A Akron, where he continued hot hitting in July and August. A last-week promotion to Triple-A Buffalo also went well, giving Garko has a chance to appear in the major leagues sometime in 2005, very rapid progress for an '03 draft pick.
Physically, Garko is a big guy who had some problems controlling his weight in college. But he's made major strides staying in shape. With the bat, he features plus bat speed, and should be able to hit for both average and power against advanced pitching. His swing is short for a big guy, and he has power to all fields, not being strictly a pull hitter. He can turn on inside pitches and has good plate discipline, usually laying off stuff outside the strike zone. He's not a walk machine, but he doesn't strike out much for a power hitter. The biggest questions for Garko are defensive. He split 2004 between catcher and first base. Behind the plate, he has an adequate arm, works well with pitchers, and demonstrates good leadership skills. But his mobility is marginal, his throwing mechanics erratic, and his overall prowess with the glove substandard. He can also handle first base adequately, though his range is limited and he doesn't have good hands. Scouts praise his work ethic and love for the game; his defensive limitations are not due to lack of effort.
Garko's 2004 numbers were excellent at all levels. He combined for 33 doubles, 22 homers, 42 walks, 65 strikeouts, and a combined .330 batting average. While his walk rate wasn't terrific, the combination of power production with a low strikeout rate is a very positive sign. There was little deterioration in his numbers between Class A and Double-A, and overall his adjustment to pro conditions was rapid and successful.
Garko has had no serious health problems. He's worked hard to improve his physical conditioning and keep excess weight off, so far with some success, though this will always be a struggle for him.
What to expect
While Garko should be ready sometime in '05, finding a spot for him on the Cleveland roster may take some time. The Indians have Victor Martinez at catcher, and Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner at first base. But Garko is ideally suited to be a platoon player/pinch-hitter/supersub, spelling Martinez at catcher, giving the other guys days off, similar to the role Matthew LeCroy plays in Minnesota. The Cleveland farm system continues to produce prospects at a rapid rate, and Garko's turn should come soon.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.