MOOSIC, Pa. -- At the mere mention of his Baseball Hall of Fame hero's name, the 20-year-old melted.
Why do you like Pedro Martinez so much?
A wide, gleeful smile -- often a familiar sight on Deivi Garcia's clean-shaven baby face -- had formed as the starting pitcher, deemed by most baseball insiders to currently be the New York Yankees' most-prized prospect, answered his favorite question of a recent one-on-one interview session.
"When I was a kid, like 13, 14 years old, a lot of people back home called me, 'Hey, Little Pedro, Little Pedro,'" the Dominican Republic-born Garcia said to ESPN via a translator last week inside his new home ballpark. "It's because [like Martinez] I'm not that tall like every other pitcher. I also used to throw a lot of curve balls too, like Pedro did."
The comparisons don't stop there. The 5-foot-9, nearly 170-pound Garcia is credited with having a mound presence and pitching bullishness that belies his slight-in-stature frame and is reminiscent of what his countryman Martinez displayed even in the earliest days of his illustrious, eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award-winning career.
And to be clear, these are still very early days for Garcia. After a recent promotion, the right-hander -- signed by the Yankees barely a month after his 16th birthday and three weeks before Martinez's induction into Cooperstown four years ago -- is now two starts into his tenure with New York's Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
It might not be the only promotion he receives this season. The deeper into the second half we get and the more the injury-ravaged Yankees pull further away in the American League East standings, Garcia could be part of their late-season plans.
"I know the next level is the major leagues, but I'm still trying to work hard and don't get [over] confident, and still work and stick to my routines," Garcia said. "If I reach that level this year, I will still have a lot of the same stuff going on: I have to stick to my plan every time I go out and just do what I can to help the team win."
Although he didn't factor in the decision, Garcia allowed just one run in a four-walk, three-inning, 75-pitch outing on Saturday. The RailRiders ultimately got the win, just as they did in his Triple-A debut the week before. Garcia is slated to pitch again at the Louisville Bats on Friday.
"He'll miss some pitches every once in a while, he hasn't totally figured out command yet but his stuff is excellent," RailRiders manager Jay Bell said. "Whenever you see stuff in a guy, you think, 'Yeah, this guy's got a chance.'
"You watch him on the mound, and his mound presence is extraordinary for a 20-year-old. He handles himself extremely well. He doesn't let things affect him very much. He gave up a homer [in his RailRiders debut], and it did not faze him. He got the ball, went back on the mound and held himself very erect, and you knew he had command of that bump out there."
As Bell, who also briefly managed Garcia last year with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, added, "When you have a guy that has that ability, along with the stuff, now you put that together and it's pretty special. He's got a bright future ahead of him."
Although he has been with them for only two weeks, a few of Garcia's teammates at Triple-A are already calling him "the real deal."
With a whopping 124 strikeouts through a combined 76⅔ innings at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Garcia this season has made himself into the kind of strikeout machine that other teams are coveting as next week's trade deadline approaches.
Per a report by ESPN's Jeff Passan, it remains possible for the Yankees to deal Garcia away in a trade for a controllable starting pitcher to shore up their rotation. That is to say, the only way New York would part with Garcia in the next eight days is if they received in return a veteran pitcher who was not scheduled to hit free agency next offseason.
But trade chatter aside, Garcia remains a highly regarded part of the Yankees' farm system. His rapid ascent this year alone portends a promising future in pinstripes.
"He's one of those guys that's been on the radar the last couple of years," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Last year, having a really good year, and then obviously this year, taking it to another level and getting the attention of not only us, but all of the baseball world knowing about him now."
Following a 2018 season in which he compiled a 2.55 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 74 innings at varying levels of Class A ball and with Double-A Trenton, Garcia rolled through the first half this season, continuing to keep his ERA low and strikeouts high. Earlier this month, while still pitching for the Thunder, he started the Futures Game during MLB's All-Star Week in Cleveland.
Channeling his idol, Garcia had a clean inning of work in MLB's premium prospect showcase, striking out the side. Martinez famously struck out the side 1-2-3 in the opening frame of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park during his second season with the Boston Red Sox.
"I kind of had an idea that something big was coming after that," Garcia said of his brief, K-filled outing.
By the fifth inning, it came.
Contacted in the middle of the inning by his Double-A manager, Pat Osborn, Garcia ended up getting asked his most memorable question of the year.
"You know you're going to Triple-A after this game?" Osborn said during the phone call.
He did then.
While Garcia has been pleased with the strides he has made this year, he still doesn't seem surprised by what has led to his rise thus far: an ability to get a lot of strikeouts. He has had it since becoming a professional player.
"In '15, I figured out that I can strike out people -- and that I love to really make the hitter confused," Garcia said. "I know that's a big part of my pitching game. So, I just try to compete against everybody and strike out everybody I can."
Strikeouts were a key part of Martinez's game too. He had 3,154 across his 18-year career. He twice put up 300-strikeout seasons, and he led the American League in K's three times.
"Pedro was a guy with three elite pitches and with 80 command with each of them," said Boone, referring to the highest number a player can receive on the scouting grade scale. "You're talking about rare, nasty stuff. He can throw them all and dot them all. That's the ultimate weapon, when you've got command plus pitches. That's what he was so good at."
Boone definitely would know. He faced Martinez seven times in his big league career. Boone collected two hits, including a double, while squaring off with Martinez. He also struck out once.
"I kind of enjoyed facing him, just in the sense that, it's kind of fun facing the best," Boone said. "You kind of know you got to be on it, and he could command it, although you know he also wasn't afraid to let it rip inside too. So it was a challenge, but it was a fun one."
At-bats like those Boone toughed through show up all over a YouTube video that Garcia credits with energizing him before he makes any start.
So here's how deep Garcia's admiration for Martinez goes: Minutes before he leaves to loosen up for a game he is pitching in, the righty plops down at his locker, grabs his phone, pops on a pair of headphones and pulls up YouTube, scrolling to a video that is four years old.
Titled "Video musical 'Hall of Fame': Homenaje a Pedro Martinez," it is a 3-minute, 14-second montage of Martinez clips set to the song "Hall of Fame," performed by the group The Script. Created to help celebrate Martinez's 2015 Hall of Fame induction, the video has more than 87,000 views. Garcia, who still has yet to meet his hero, has a large chunk of them.
"It's like a ritual," Garcia said. "It gets me pumped up."
There are moments in the video when fans wave the Dominican Republic's flag as Martinez pitches. Combine them with the song's varying crescendos and beat changes and there's plenty in the highlights to engender pride in Garcia.
Of course, parts of the video wouldn't excite most Yankees fans: There are two scenes in which Martinez strikes out Derek Jeter; another in which he gets Alex Rodriguez looking; one more when he threw up near Karim Garcia's head in the 2003 American League Championship Series; and yet another in which the lyrics "You can walk straight through hell with a smile" are sung as an aerial shot of a packed Yankee Stadium is shown before transitioning to a grinning Martinez.
"He could do so many things on the mound," Boone said of Martinez. "He could pitch up with the fastball. He could really make the fastball move and sink and do different things. As good a breaking ball as there was in the league, and then the changeup is the famous pitch. Pedro's as good a right-handed pitcher as there's been, certainly in my lifetime."
While no one within the Yankees organization is willing to make a comparison between Garcia and Martinez, there is still a belief that the young hurler with a mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking pitches could fully blossom in the coming seasons.
Part of getting Garcia to that point includes expanding his repertoire. During spring training, he started tinkering with a slider, adding it to his arsenal of fastball-curveball-changeup. For the past two months, he has used the slider in games. He even used it as the out pitch on two of his six strikeouts in his first game at Triple-A.
"I love that pitch. I love to throw it," Garcia said. "The slider has been great, because now people got more pitches to think about. I've used it a couple of times, and the hitters don't know if it's the curve ball or the fastball, and then it could be a slider coming. So that really helps."
It appears the organization already is seeing favorable depth and break to Garcia's slider, as well.
"Not only is it an extra pitch, it's a quality extra pitch," Bell said. "It gives that nice little separation, short lead break; it's not just that overhand curve ball that's just going to go down, it's going to away from hitters, also."
For now, Garcia's goal is to be patient with his overall development. As quickly as he has progressed this year, he is well aware that his next promotion could take some time. Then again, it might not.
"When it happens, I'm just going to be like, 'Wow,'" Garcia said. "If I'm smiling all the time here now, just imagine when I get called up. I'll be all smiles."