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“I just feel at home”; why Saul Garza chose to sign with the Royals

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One of the top undrafted free agents is loving every bit about Kansas City.

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 31 Div 1 Championship Baton Rouge Regional - LSU v Stony Brook Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wasn’t a typical college season for Saul Garza. After playing with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League last summer, Garza returned to Baton Rouge for what he thought would be a promising junior year at LSU. But disaster struck when college baseball, and the rest of the world for that matter, was shut down due to COVID-19.

“After the season ended, I spent a few days with my teammates,” Garza said in a phone interview. “It’s tough for all of us just cause of the bond that we had and everything we had coming into the season. We thought we had really good shots to make a run in Omaha.”

Forced to pack up and head home just 14 games into the 2020 season, Garza was tasked with something no college player had the intentions of doing in early March. He had to prepare for the MLB Draft without game competition. Without a facility to work out in during quarantine, Garza decided to take matters into his own hands. With his dad’s help, they re-built an old batting cage in the backyard.

“The net had a bunch of holes and stuff in it,” Garza said. “We made some patches, put it all together and got to work.”

For weeks, Garza would hit in that cage and complete workouts the LSU baseball program would send him to stay in game shape. Then came the day Garza had been working for his entire life - a chance to join one of 30 Major League teams.

Watching at home with his family, Garza, like many other college athletes around the country, anxiously awaited for his name to be read on national television. However, seeing his name come off the board wasn’t new territory. In 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Garza out of Edinburg North High School where he was a three-time All-State catcher, played linebacker, and competed in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle for the swimming team. But Garza elected to go to Howard Junior College to play baseball in Big Spring, Texas. In his freshman season, the 6-foot-3 catcher smacked 23 home runs and posted a .378 batting average.

His surging power numbers paved the way for him to join one of the top baseball programs in the country in LSU two years later. In Garza’s first taste of action in Division I baseball, he started 42 of the 50 games he played, and hit .303 with 10 doubles and five home runs. That summer, another Major League team selected him in the 32nd round of the 2019 MLB Draft. This time, it was the other baseball team from Missouri - the Kansas City Royals. But Garza decided he wasn’t ready to leave Baton Rouge just yet and returned for his junior year.

When the final pick of the five-round 2020 MLB Draft was made and Garza hadn’t been selected, there was still hope that his dreams of making a big league roster could be fulfilled. After turning down the option of playing professionally the year before, Garza planned on taking an offer from one of the teams that had considerable interest. Once again, it was the Royals, who had been marked as a team that would be aggressive in the undrafted free agent market.

The day the former LSU Tiger became a professional baseball player is one that began with a hiccup. Garza, who had set his alarm a little late in the morning, woke up to numerous missed calls. A handful of them were from the Royals.

“I made sure to call them back and that’s when they told me they were interested and they’d like to make an offer,” Garza said. “After the draft, you feel a little let down. But after that happens and you get that phone call, it’s pretty special.”

Once Garza talked it over with his family, he made that choice that Kansas City would be the best fit for him to start his professional career.

“I didn’t know how interested or what they would be willing to do, but ultimately I feel like Kansas City is a great place,” Garza said.” It’s a beautiful city. It was my first time being up in Kansas City two weeks ago when all of the new signees came up. It was a pretty incredible place and I am super, super excited to get going.”

Garza felt an immediate connection to all of the newly signed Royals, but he especially bonded with draftees from Texas, who the Royals took plenty of.

“I really feel like we got pretty close,” Garza said. “Kale Emshoff (UDFA, Arkansas Little-Rock), Nick Lofton (Baylor), Asa Lacy (Texas A&M), and John McMillon (UDFA, Texas Tech), hit it off right off the bat and we kicked it with them.”

One of the reasons Garza had the opportunity to bond with so many in the draft class, both undrafted and drafted, was due to growing respect among the league with the Royals organization and treatment of minor league players. Garza said he took notice of that when he joined the system.

“Everything I’ve ever heard about the Royals is that they’re a first class organization,” Garza said. “They just pride themselves on doing the right thing and that was an example from the front office. Their heart and mind is in the right spot. For them to be able to stick with their word and commit themselves to continue to pay money and players was something that is pretty special. It’s a family oriented organization and they take care of their own.”

Now that Garza is a member of the Royals, they continue to provide him a workout plan -similar to what LSU did in the initial weeks of quarantine. Kansas City’s front office is making sure the players who didn’t attend summer camp are not wasting an entire season of baseball.

“I think for them to continue to stay in touch, reach out to us, make sure we’re safe and making sure we can get a little workout in is first class,” Garza said.

It’s only been a few weeks since Garza has joined the Royals organization, but in just that short period, he’s fit right in and he believes it.

“I just feel at home.”

You can follow Saul on Twitter here @SaulGarzaa12