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After an excruciating season in which President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer traded away the 2016 championship core, newly acquired top-tier prospects were among the few bright spots.
Yet despite new additions, Brailyn Marquez remains perhaps the most intriguing pitching prospect.
You might remember that Marquez made his MLB debut during the easily-forgotten, COVID-shortened 2020 season. The left-hander had shown electric stuff, but he also endured command problems (walking three and allowing five runs in a 10-8 win against the Chicago White Sox). We haven’t seen him since that contest on September 27, 2020.
Unfortunately, the 23-year-old couldn’t build upon his 2020 promotion due to COVID and a shoulder injury in 2021
But don’t forget about Marquez’s ability to throw over 100 mph (Jim Callis of MLB.com gave him an 80 grade on his fastball). Whether Márquez will pitch as a starter or reliever remains foggy. Regardless, it’s vital that he pitches significant innings this season
“[Marquez‘ role is] unclear. Pitching weapon, so to speak,” Hoyer told reporters in the fall of 2021. “It’s valid to ask how many innings he’s going to have next year. We’re gonna have to be careful, coming off of a COVID season, coming off of a season he didn’t pitch. I think those are constantly issues that we’re having to ask and address.”
Marquez’s 2022 season has already gotten off to a rough start (the left-hander arrived late to spring training due to a positive COVID-19 test).
Still, Marquez’s optimism was noticeable as he talked to reporters through team translator Will Nadal:
“I’m really excited for the opportunity to contribute in any way possible for the team,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what position they need me. If they need me as a starter or as a reliever, any way that I can contribute again on the big league team, that’s what I’m looking to do.”
Although Marquez likely won’t be a starter in the immediate future, he can still help the big-league team as a powerful, multi-inning reliever. Remember, Cubs starters finished 26th in baseball in strikeouts per nine (7.40), 23rd in innings pitched (781.2), eighth in groundball percentage (44.7 percent). Their starters also threw fastballs with the lowest velocity. And the relievers who helped compile the fourth-best K/9 in 2021 — Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, and Craig Kimbrel — are now on different teams.
The Cubs can certainly deploy Marquez in a way that resembles their 2021 strategy with Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson: use Marquez out of the bullpen for multiple innings. Shut down batters. Walk off the mound pumped. Win games.
Developing Marquez will be more proof that the Cubs’ investment into their ‘Pitch Lab’ was worthwhile. How soon ‘The Next Great Cubs’ team is assembled depends on prospects such as Márquez reaching as close to their ceiling as possible.
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