March 26, 2014
WASHINGTON - As major league baseball readies itself for Opening Day and spring training camps come to a close, three alums of the Georgetown baseball team are currently pursuing their dreams of a career in professional baseball. Mike Garza ('12), Erick Fernandez ('11) and Tim Adleman ('10) are all in spring training camps, competing for a minor league roster spot with their respective organizations.
Garza is entering his third season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization while Fernandez is trying to catch on with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Adleman is currently in camp with the Cincinnati Reds. While the three former Hoyas are all working toward the same goal, they all have embarked upon their own journey since leaving the Hilltop.
Climbing the Ladder
Garza put up big numbers in a Hoyas' uniform during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He started 53 of the team's 56 games in 2011 hitting .306 with a team-high 39 RBI. His numbers exploded in 2012 to the tune of a .393 batting average to lead the Blue & Gray. His 86 hits that year are tied for the school's season record. Despite spending just two seasons with the Blue & Gray, it was more than enough to prepare Garza for the next level.
"The experiences that I was fortunate enough to have as a member of the Georgetown baseball team have served me well in my years of pro ball. Whether it was the years of practices, games in a competitive conference or experiences like playing the (Washington) Nationals in spring training, I definitely feel like my years at Georgetown and the commitment of the staff, trainers, etc. definitely had me prepared for the professional ranks."
Garza arrived to the Hilltop as a sophomore, prior to the 2010 season, after transferring from Stanford. While he enjoyed his first year with the Cardinal, it did not feel like the right fit for him. So he turned to Georgetown and Head Coach Pete Wilk, with whom he had built up a relationship while being recruited in high school.
"After getting my release from Stanford, I made a phone call to [Coach Wilk] and talked to him about the possibility of going to Georgetown to play. It was just a better fit for me, both academically and athletically."
After recording team highs in home runs (eight), doubles (21), RBI (44), slugging percentage (.616) and on-base percentage (.433) in 2012, his efforts on the field were rewarded as the Milwaukee Brewers made him their 20th round draft choice in the 2012 MLB Draft. Despite possessing another year of eligibility, Garza decided to turn pro, having already received his Georgetown degree.
"It was kind of a dream come true (to receive a Georgetown degree and get drafted). Academics were always pushed when I was younger and continued to be pushed while I was at Georgetown. I have always believed, and still do, that your education is a No. 1 priority because the game can be taken away from you at any second."
Garza burst onto the professional scene with a bang, playing 57 games at two different levels. He started with the Brewers' rookie-league team, Helena, but needed just 19 games, batting .407 with two home runs, two triples and 13 RBI, before being promoted to the next level. He played 38 games for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Brewers' Class-A affiliate, batting .209 with a home run and 16 RBI in 139 at-bats.
He returned to Wisconsin in 2013 and put up respectable numbers, batting .282 with four home runs in 106 games. He finished second on the squad in batting average as well as second with nine triples and fourth with 41 RBI.
So far this spring, Garza has been working out with the Brewers' High-A squad, Brevard County, with the hopes of moving up to the next level.
"I'm just looking to improve on last year. There are obviously a lot of tangibles with numbers and statistics that you can set goals for. I think a lot of times that adds some unnecessary pressure and causes guys to press a little bit. For me, I look to have good at-bats. I try not to give any away, or give fewer away than I did the year before. Play good defense and let the rest take care of itself. There are a lot of things out of your control at this level."
Appreciating Second Opportunities
A three-time All-BIG EAST selection during his time on the Hilltop, Fernandez was drafted not once but twice in his time at Georgetown. The Washington Nationals selected him in the 46th round of the 2010 draft following his junior year. Fernandez chose to stay at the Hilltop however, playing out his senior year and earning his degree.
"Still to this day, I know I made the right decision to return for my senior year. When I say I graduated from Georgetown, people stop and stare like it is a big deal. And it is. I graduated and that is what I wanted to do from the beginning. I don't have any regrets."
The extra year paid off as the Hialeah, Fla., native batted .315 his senior year with four home runs, 15 doubles and 35 RBI. The Nationals again called, this time drafting Fernandez in the 25th round of the 2011 MLB Draft.
He spent two-plus season in the Nationals' organization, but was never provided the opportunity to compete as an everyday player. Fernandez became a victim of the business side of the game as the Nationals had another catcher, a 19-year old prospect, that they had already invested a lot of money into. Stuck behind him, Fernandez never played more than 36 games in a season despite producing competitive numbers.
He first reported to the organization's rookie team in the Gulf Coast League in 2011, where he appeared in 28 of the team's 53 games, batting .245 with a home run and 11 doubles. He was only behind the plate for eight games, but threw out 47percent (8-17) of potential base-stealers. By comparison, the major league leader in 2013, Ryan Hanigan of Cincinnati, threw out 45.5percent of base-stealers.
Despite his productive numbers in limited time, Fernandez again played a backup role in 2012. He was sent to Nationals' High-A affiliate in Potomac where he batted .237 in 36 games, compiling 23 hits in 97 at-bats. He again excelled defensively, throwing out 40percent (19-48) of base-stealers.
In 2013, Fernandez played just 21 games, between Class-A Hagerstown and Auburn of the short season New York-Penn League before the Nationals released him in July.
"That's just how the business goes. Opportunities were limited, especially given the situation I was in."
He was not picked up by any other teams for the remainder of the season, nor was he contacted during the late fall and early winter, when most minor league free agent signings take place. It was not until the final week of January, just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, when the Pirates called with an opportunity. Fernandez, who had begun to put the idea of baseball aside to instead put that Georgetown degree to use, jumped at the chance.
While he is not guaranteed a spot on any of the Pirates' minor league rosters, Fernandez is making the most of the opportunity to start fresh with a new organization.
"I appreciate the game a lot more now. I am just happy to be in camp. I don't know where they are going to put me, that is something out of my control. I am just going to go out there and playing wherever they put me. My mind is just on enjoying this and knowing when an opportunity is given and making the best of it.
I was blessed to get a second opportunity (at professional baseball). And I got a degree. There are a lot of guys who take the money over the education, and it hurts them in the long run. I feel blessed and am enjoying every opportunity I get to play this sport."
Controlling the Controllables
Adleman graduated from Georgetown as the all-time leader in career strikeouts with 224. His strikeout totals, plus his low walk numbers (83 in 293.2 career innings) led to Adleman becoming the Baltimore Orioles' 24th round draft pick in 2010.
He jumped out to a quick start at short-season Aberdeen in 2010. While with the Ironbirds, Adleman worked with former Orioles' lefty Scott McGregor and picked up a two-seam fastball. He enjoyed success, posting a 3.44 ERA in 13 starts and was named to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game, where he threw a scoreless inning.
"I was able to get a lot of early contact, a lot of early ground balls and I had a really good defense behind me. I was able to get into a rhythm and was able to have some good success that year."
His highlight of the 2010 season came on Aug. 2 at Staten Island, a Yankees affiliate. Adleman pitched seven innings of no-hit ball and had a perfect game through six innings. He allowed a walk to lead off the seventh inning, but quickly erased the base runner with a double play. Staten Island got a single off of the Aberdeen bullpen in the eighth to ruin the no-hit bid.
Struggles came in 2011 for Adleman when he was promoted to the Orioles' Class-A team, Delmarva, in the South Atlantic League. After a handful of starts, the Orioles moved him to the bullpen with the intent for him to work on becoming quicker to the plate to control running game.
"I couldn't make that adjustment on the fly and it got me all out of whack. Mechanically and I wasn't able to make my pitches consistently. I had a couple of rough outings and it got into my head a little bit."
He finished with a respectable five wins out of the bullpen in 28 total appearances, but a few rough outings caused his ERA to balloon to 6.01.
He came into spring training in 2012 with a short leash. He still was not as quick to the plate as the Orioles wanted him to be and that, along with a combination of his underwhelming numbers from the year before and a mediocre velocity (88-92 MPH) for a right-handed reliever, led to him being released before the end of spring training.
"No hard feelings there. It's just part of the business."
Out of affiliated baseball, Adleman played for a couple of independent league teams in 2012, compiling a 0-2 record and 5.58 ERA. He posted an impressive 38-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"It was just about me getting back on track. I knew I could pitch. I knew I could pitch at a high enough level to be with an affiliated team. I just focused on getting back to my form from Aberdeen and just attacking the strike zone with a two-seam fastball and stop worrying so much about the runners."
While his numbers were not enough for an organization to pick him up, Adleman had showed himself enough to continue playing. He was able to work a trade to the New Jersey Jackals of the Canadian- American Association so he could pitch closer to family.
Adleman also took part in an off-season throwing program designed to increase velocity. Working with weighted balls, he saw his velocity jump from 88-92 to sitting consistently 93-95 and touching 96 MPH.
With the new velocity and returning to the mindset he had at Georgetown and Aberdeen, Adleman re-discovered the success he had once enjoyed on the Hilltop.
"(Georgetown Pitching) Coach (Curtis) Brown used to say 'You can be as prepared as you want to be and execute the pitch and all that but, as soon as the ball leaves your hand, there is nothing you can do.' I wanted to get back on track in terms attacking the strike zone and concentrating on the batters. I just wanted to show that I could pitch again and I figured that, if I got the opportunity again, I would figure out how to control the run game when I needed to cross that bridge."
The new mentality worked as Adleman recorded a stingy 1.46 ERA with 10 saves and 62 strikeouts in 40 appearances, covering 49.1 innings in 2013.
For his efforts, he was rated as the No. 3 overall prospect in the independent leagues (there are eight leagues) by Baseball America and the second-best pitcher. While reaching the major leagues out of the independent leagues is a difficult task, players have done it. Arguably the most notable is Daniel Nava who is now a regular in the outfield for the Boston Red Sox and helped them to a World Series Championship last season. Nava was ranked as the No. 1 prospect on the same prospect list back in 2008.
The Reds took notice of Adleman's 2013 numbers and signed him to a minor league contract in October. While he feels that he has thrown the ball well so far this spring, his quickness to the plate is again being addressed.
This time however, he can work on it in practice rather than trying to adjust in a game.
"As long as I control what I can control, the pieces will fall into place, however they are supposed to fall."