Get to Know: Twins Outfield Prospect Willie Joe Garry, Jr.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyWillie Joe Garry, Jr. grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It is a city right on the Gulf of Mexico with about 23,000 people. It is just east of Biloxi.
It was there that Garry grew to love the game of baseball. He tried playing other sports.
Following a practice this past weekend, he said, “I played football when I was younger. I was alright. Basketball? I was not good at all.”
But even in baseball, it wasn’t obvious that he would eventually become a professional ball player. Pascagoula High School is now a 6A school after spending years as a 5A school. As a freshman, he was unable to play because of a knee injury.
His sophomore season, he was still quite small. He said that he was about 5-2 and just 130 pounds. ‘I pitched though. I was a pretty good pitcher. I threw pretty hard for my size.“
He started growing some, and as a junior, he started the season as the team’s center fielder.
“I got into a slump so I got snatched out of the lineup. Went to right field. Still slumped, so I got benched. ”
From that point forward, however, things have been on the rise, including Garry’s prospect status.
“I came back in the playoffs and got hot.”
Then as a senior, he was the team’s starting center fielder all season.
He had committed to playing baseball at local community college Pearl River, but when the Twins selected him in the ninth round, it wasn’t a real difficult decision for him to sign.
“It was something me and my parents had talked about prior (to the draft). We talked about it once we got the call. It wasn’t really tough because I really wanted to play professional baseball. I knew I would be able to grow and build, and if I could start out earlier, that would be better. Coming in young, I felt like that would be an advantage for me. Being a young guy. Being around the older guys. Being on the same workout plan as them, but starting out earlier. That was our key point. That’s what made it a little earlier too.”
While Mississippi isn’t the noted baseball hotbed in the same way that Georgia preps are, Garry came from a strong class.
“The competition in Mississippi is … JT Ginn (1st round, Dodgers). Joe Gray (2nd round, Brewers). Konnor Pilkington (3rd round, White Sox). Dexter Jordan (16th round, Astros). A bunch of guys drafted from that same class. I felt the competition was pretty good. We never really faced any… you had a couple of teams that didn’t have too many guys. Usually when our team played a team, we saw their #1 guy, and I feel like that helped a lot.”
Willie Joe Garry, Jr. was the Twins ninth round pick in 2018. One other Mississippi player drafted that year was Regi Grace, a right-handed pitcher that the Twins took in the tenth round.
“I’d heard about him. I was in 5A. They were in 6A. My school went to 6A. We never played with or against each other until the summer going into the draft. We ended up playing together.” He continued, “We got SnapChat. We started texting. We just started hanging out a bit.Then we got here. We started getting a close bond. Then ninth round,10th round. We had the same flight up to Minnesota when we got drafted. Then we became roommates. Now we’re really good friends. Still roommates right now.”
That first season in the GCL after he signed was a rough one for Garry. In 33 games, he hit just .160 with four doubles. He had 28 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances and felt almost over-matched.
“I feel like I’m still growing, still getting stronger and stronger every day. From the first year, not really showing any power, really not making much contact. So that’s what I was working on in that offseason, making contact, hard contact. It was good to see the work from the offseason transfer into the season.”
When the season finished, he went to work. Garry, Jr and Grace were among the first players to arrive at the Twins minor league academy just days after the calendar turned to 2019.
“The transition from the year before to last year was really good. It was something I worked on, like catching the balls up front because I was getting blown up by fastballs throughout the whole season my first year. So working on that velo, catching up to that velo. And then to see it work out in-game the very next season, that was really good for me. I needed that. I built a lot of confidence, so then I could put a little extra on my swing. Started putting a few out. Start getting some extra base hits. Stopped worrying about swinging through balls. Just play. That’s what I went back to.”
In 55 games with the Elizabethton Twins, he hit .228 with six doubles, three triples and five home runs. There is still room for improvement, of course, but Garry took major strides in 2019. The goal is to keep that momentum going into 2020.
At Elizabethton, he had the opportunity to play for manager Ray Smith who has spent the past 34 seasons with that team, including 27 of them as manager. He was drafted by and spent parts of three seasons with the Twins in the early ‘80s. E-Twins hitting coach Jeff Reed was a first-round pick with the Twins, got traded and spent 17 seasons in the big leagues. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge.
“So much knowledge. I learned so much. Not even from drills and things, just from listening to them. Sometimes I wasn’t even in the conversation. Just standing to the side listening to them, the things they were saying. I tried to put some of those things into my game because they coached Buxton and all these guys. They go way back. Listening to them, taking the things that they say and trying to put them into my game helped a lot too. Not even the physical things, but the mental parts. The approach after a strikeout, things like that. Coming in knowing you can take your walks. Not trying to do too much.”
So again, he and Regi made that early January trek to Ft. Myers to keep working. ““I feel it paid off last year so we did it again.”
That work began in the weight room.
“A lot of my effort, early in the morning has been to gain weight in the weight room. Still trying to gain weight.” Garry, Jr. continued, “175 last year. I’m up to 189, cracking 190. I hit 190, I’ll start rocking some Double-XL shirts.”.
It’s all part of the process for the kids drafted out of high school or internationally. They have to mature physically and mentally.
So, what does he consider his strengths on the baseball field?
“I feel like even though I’m small, strength is a part of my game. I feel like I have a plus arm. I’m working on power. Consistency. I can show some flashes of power. I can go oppo if I need to. I can to do center or right.So I’m trying to get that consistency.
Being able to use the entire field is something that he thinks is important.
“I don’t want to cut off one side of the field. Get those doubles on the left side. Get those doubles on the right side. Maybe let a couple fly on the right side. Doesn’t matter how far or what side of the field.”
As for goals for 2020? They’re never too far from Garry’s mind, or his eyes.
“They’re on the screen saver of my phone. I look at them every day.”
Better utilizing his speed is one area that he would like to work on.
“I really want to move around the base paths this year. Stolen bases. Turning those singles into doubles by stolen bases, reading dirt balls. Show a little more power. But really I want to keep learning and take my game to the next level.”
Where will that happen? There is a chance that he will return to the E-Twins, but it’s also possible that he gets an opportunity to start the season in Cedar Rapids. If that is the case, he will need to continue to make adjustments, this time while adjusting to the cold temperatures of the MIdwest League in April. That said, if his ultimate goal is to reach the big leagues and play at Target Field, acclimating to the temperatures will be a must.
When I saw Willie Joe Garry one year ago in Twins minor league camp, he stood out to me as one to watch.His athleticism was impressive. He had good speed. He was thin, but he had some pop. And, I had heard about his work ethic. And again, he is one of the players this spring that has stood out to me again as one to watch.
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