CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The name Pedro Martinez is mentioned and Deivi García nods knowingly, a slight smile creasing his youthful face. Hearing your name in the same sentence as one of the greatest pitchers ever to touch a Dominican Republic mound is at once a great honor and an unforgiving challenge.
It is a comparison that García has been fielding since he first laced his spikes as a 16-year-old at the Yankees' academy in Boca Chica, his diminutive frame and clean delivery drawing hushed mentions of the Hall of Fame right-hander whose exploits once fueled one of the game's most heated rivalries.
"My teammates used to make that comparison, actually," García said through an interpreter. "I was young and I didn't really understand why they were comparing me to Pedro; later on, you start growing up and learning more about baseball in general. Then you start understanding why. I'm proud to be compared to a legend like Pedro, my fellow countryman and someone I look up to."
With six regular-season starts and one abbreviated playoff outing already under his belt -- one imprinted with Martinez's uniform No. 45, an homage to his idol -- García has a legitimate opportunity to crack the Yankees' rotation this spring.
The 21-year-old took his first steps toward that goal on Thursday, permitting a pair of solo home runs in a two-inning effort against the Phillies at BayCare Ballpark. Scott Kingery and Odúbel Herrera punished García for misplacing his changeup and fastball, respectively, but otherwise García exited satisfied by a 27-pitch effort in which he struck out three and did not issue a walk.
"I felt very comfortable with all my pitches today," García said. "I did miss two pitches there and I paid the consequences, but overall, I felt really good."
Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza -- filling in as acting manager while Aaron Boone recovers from surgery to implant a pacemaker performed on Wednesday -- said that García was aggressive in the zone and had good life on his fastball and breaking balls. Watching from the first-base dugout, Mendoza reflected on a history with García that spans longer than nearly anyone in pinstripes.
Then a roving defensive instructor in the Bombers' system, Mendoza said that he first crossed paths with García in 2015 at the club's academy in the Dominican Republic. He recalled being impressed by García's poise and advanced strike-throwing ability, yet he was wary of onlookers who were setting the bar high.
"Everybody was kind of talking about comparing him to Pedro Martinez," Mendoza said. "I was like, 'Really? We're dropping Pedro Martinez at this age?' But he was a great kid, having conversations with him and just getting to know him and his family. He's a smart kid and always willing to learn."
That was what the Yankees saw throughout García's brief Minor League career, supplying one of the team's heart-warming storylines last year when journeyman catcher Erik Kratz trotted to home plate at Yankee Stadium, exclaiming that he was "so excited to play catch with my son!"
The affinity between García and Kratz was real, dating to their time together with the Yanks' Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre squad and largely owing to García's ongoing interest in tapping into the experience of teammates and coaches. Yankees first baseman Luke Voit said that he believes García can be a solid big league starter for many years to come.
"I don't want him to get his head too big, but I think he's going to have a chance to show us what he's got this year," Voit said. "He did a little bit for us at the end of the year and in the playoffs, so I'm excited about him. He's a smaller guy and you don't face too many guys that are that little, so it's a different slot. That's why he pushes the ball and gets that elevation up in the zone. I like that."
The Yankees' rotation projects to feature Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery to begin the season, creating a fifth-starter derby that includes García, Domingo Germán, Michael King and others.
Viewed as one of the front-runners of that competition entering camp, Mendoza said that the Yankees instructed García to pound the strike zone and fine-tune any issues with his delivery -- assignments that García has readily accepted.
"We have so much talent here," García said. "We have a lot of young players that have so many different abilities. For me, I think the key is to stay healthy. That's what is going to give me the best chance at helping the team."