Like the swell of a whitecap off in the distance, it appeared for a while as though Brailyn Márquez was poised to lead a wave of Cubs pitching that would wash over any need for a retool. Then spring training got shut down due to the pandemic and everyone was sent back home, which for Márquez meant much less structure or access to workout facilities. He arrived at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend out of shape and had to spend longer than expected working back into form.
There was a flash of hope when he was called up for the final game of the regular season against the White Sox and there was even talk that he could be available should the Cubs advance past the Marlins. Well, the Cubs didn’t advance past the Marlins and they’ve been cleaning up the mess of that wet fart ever since. That effort obviously did not include Márquez because the lefty was initially delayed in 2021 due to the COVID intake process and then dealt with recurring shoulder issues.
A battery of tests revealed no structural damage, but the Cubs weren’t about to take any risks given Márquez’s importance to a team that was headed downhill in the second half. I also wonder whether the experiences with Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, both of whom had stress reactions that went undiagnosed for too long due to inadequate imaging, factored at all in how the Cubs handled the young lefty.
Even after missing most of the last two years, though, Márquez will still be just 23 at whatever point the ’22 season gets underway. That’s hardly an advanced age, even by prospect standards, so he’s got more than enough time to catch back up. And if there’s an upside to being on the shelf for an extended period, it’s that he’s hardly put any mileage on that left arm.
Márquez is taking part in a throwing program in Arizona right now and is expected to participate in spring training, at which point the Cubs will have to decide how to best deploy him. Jed Hoyer said in October that Márquez would be a “pitching weapon,” albeit one that must be fired while wearing kid gloves.
“It’s valid to ask how many innings he’s going to have next year,” Hoyer explained. “We’re going to have to be careful coming off of a COVID season, coming off of a season where he didn’t pitch.
“I think those are constantly issues that we’re having to ask and address. We’re going to have innings limits on him. We’re going to figure out when to use that.”
Tim Stebbins of NBC Sports Chicago likened it to the way the White Sox used Michael Kopech, who debuted briefly in 2018 before missing all of 2019 due to elbow reconstruction and opting out of the 2020 season. The hard-throwing righty then worked almost exclusively out of the arm barn (calm down, it’s just a fun phrase) in preparation for what is expected to be a rotation spot next season.
Kopech was about two years older this past season than Márquez will be next year and had logged around 175 more professional innings, so there’s a case to be made for the Cubs to prioritize experience at Triple-A. At the same time, the innings limit and need for power arms in Chicago, not to mention what should be a much more aggressive approach to pitching development, could have Hoyer and Co. looking to get Márquez more frequent MLB reps.
And don’t worry about service time here. Whether or not those rules markedly with the new CBA, teams aren’t trying to delay pitchers who could have a much more finite lifespan than their position-playing brethren. When you’ve got a guy who hits triple digits from the left side, the last thing you want is for him to be wasting bullets in the minors.
This all assumes he’s able to display the same elite velo with solid enough command of the breaking and offspeed stuff to merit a spot on the roster, whether it’s in camp or at some point in Iowa. Márquez isn’t in a make-or-break situation next season, but it sure would be a lot more fun if he makes it.