Beyond simply having live baseball back, two of the best aspects of spring training are getting a glimpse at prospects and seeing what new wrinkles players have added to their respective games. That’s why I was looking forward to seeing Brailyn Márquez on the mound in Mesa after he got a tiny little cup of espresso in the last game of the 2020 season.
The big lefty can hit triple digits with his fastball and he’s got wipeout stuff, the kind of combo we’ve never seen from a homegrown Cubs pitcher. And he’s a starter, so it’s really unlike anything we’ve ever seen from a pitcher wearing a Cubs uniform. But we may once again have a very limited look at Márquez, who got a late start at camp due to the COVID-19 intake protocols
“He’s always a guy that we’ve kind of taken a slow and deliberate approach with,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told reporters. “And then coming in with all the COVID protocols and all the stuff he had to deal with, it was going to take some time to ramp him back up. He put in a lot of good work in the offseason, fortunately.”
That last bit is good to hear, particularly after Márquez arrived at the alternate site in South Bend last summer a little out of shape after having been unable to work out properly. That might sound more like a lack of desire, and maybe it was to some extent, but this isn’t the 80’s and it isn’t just a matter of staying fresh by throwing a ball up against a wall or playing catch.
Even so, you can’t be blamed for feeling mild concern about the organization’s top pitching prospect once again experiencing a setback when it comes to getting a start on workouts. That said, Márquez does appear to have matured over the past two or three years and he gained valuable insight on how to be a pro during the league’s Rookie Program.
He wasn’t going to factor in the Cubs’ roster plans out of the gate anyway and the minor leagues don’t start until May, so there’s more than enough time to let the process play out. I just hope Márquez is ready for the mound before the end of big league camp so we can get another look at him in Mesa.
Hoerner keeps slugging
Maybe I was wrong about Nico Hoerner needing more time in the minors. Even if he’s facing lesser talent throwing spring fastballs, the second baseman has added a noticeable amount of lean mass and is driving everything he hits.
“He looks like he’s been chiseled out of marble this spring,” Hottovy said during the Marquee broadcast of Friday’s game. “Absolutely yoked.”
A lot of folks misunderstood the purpose of Hoerner adding more athleticism and power to his swing by opting for a more open stance, thinking he was just trying to hit homers. While he should tally more dingers as he matures, the real goal is simply to hit the ball harder because that gives the best chance for it to land safely. He’s still going to be a contact hitter, he’s just not a slap hitter.
Hoerner probably can’t sustain an .875 average throughout the spring, but the process that has led to it in the early going is one that will serve him very well moving forward.
Arrieta debuting Sunday
The last time Jake Arrieta pitched for the Cubs was in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS, the only game the Cubs took from the Dodgers in that lopsided series. It’s also the last time the Cubs won at all in the postseason, with four consecutive losses featuring three total runs since. Fun times, huh?
Both the Cubs and Arrieta are in decidedly different places now and it’s wholly unrealistic to expect anything akin to what we saw from him during that earlier run, but he says he’s still got gas in the tank. Perhaps a return to full health and a few tweaks to his approach can rekindle a little something.
Lifting one another up
Though it’s not a Cubs-specific note, I’m happy to report that my son was able to raise over $1,200 for Lost Boyz Inc. We’ll get all the money collected and make the donation in the next few days. It feels pretty cool to use baseball as a vehicle to lift others up and help in a small way.