Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Piggybacking and updates on Brailyn Marquez and Brennen Davis
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs top prospect Brailyn Marquez reported to Cubs camp Monday morning.
The 23-year-old lefty was delayed because he tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine in the Dominican Republic.
“I tested positive about two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Marquez said through team translator Will Nadal. “I didn’t feel very well. I had some symptoms.”
It was another setback for the Cubs’ top prospect who tested positive for COVID ahead of last year’s Spring Training and missed a month due to it. He didn’t pitch in the minors at all in 2021 after suffering a shoulder injury. He debuted in the big leagues in 2020, pitching 0.2 innings in the final series of the year against the White Sox, but outside of that outing, he has not pitched in a competitive game since 2019.
“It really isn’t frustrating for me, moreso I know I’m affecting the team, or the possibility of affecting the team and the organization, not being there, not being ready for them,” Marquez said.
He did learn from that experience, though. Marquez believes he could have suffered the shoulder injury ramping up after he returned from COVID in 2021, so he made sure to prepare his body in case he suffered a similar setback this season.
“Since I had that last year already, I had a full year just to continue to work on my body, build up, make sure that if this happened again, which it did, I’d be ready once I’d be able to start pitching again,” Marquez said.
And the Cubs are taking it easy with him, making sure he’s healthy as they ramp him up and prepare him for 2022.
“Be patient,” manager David Ross said. “Most guys — especially young guys — come in and they’re super excited to be back on the field, back in this weather working. So, making sure they pace themselves and understand we’re in no rush. It’s a long season we’re building up for and just make sure we get that feedback [and] communication. We’re pretty good about that.”
Get ready for some piggybacking
The phrase “piggybacking” has become a lot more common around baseball circles in recent years with all the unprecedented seasons. As teams have had unusual Spring Training/summer camp experiences to get prepared for a season, they’ve prioritized pitcher health.
One way to keep arms fresh is by working them in slowly and not leaning too heavily on any particular pitcher. But games are still 9 innings, so managers have to find ways to get all those outs somehow.
That’s where piggybacking comes in. In the regular season, the Cubs could start a veteran like Wade Miley — who has not yet appeared in a game this spring, but threw a bullpen session on Monday — and have the southpaw toss 3-4 innings. Then Keegan Thompson could come in to go 2-3 innings and turn the ball over to the rest of the bullpen for the final few frames.
We don’t know how it will all play out yet but with the regular season just over two weeks away, the Cubs are preparing for the likelihood of needing more length out of their bullpen at the start of the 2022 slate.
“Everyone’s gonna have to do a lot of piggybacking,” Thompson said Monday after throwing 2 innings against the Reds. “It’s going to be really hard for all the pitchers around the league to be ready to go out there and throw 5 or 6 innings on Opening Day. It’s gonna be tough on everybody.”
Thompson allowed 2 hits and struck out 3 over his 2 scoreless frames at Sloan Park. He is one of the arms competing for a rotation spot this spring and could wind up coming out of the bullpen as one of the piggyback options.
The 27-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut last May and impressed right out of the gate. He filled a variety of roles for the Cubs, making 6 starts and 26 relief appearances. He notched 3 wins, a save and a hold with a 3.38 ERA in 53.1 innings.
When Thompson was in the Cubs bullpen, he routinely provided multiple innings and emerged as a key long-term piece of the pitching staff.
Thompson carried the success from his rookie season into the winter, where he also slimmed down a bit and spent time enjoying life with his family after getting married over the offseason and honeymooning in Paris and Tulum.
“If you make it to the big leagues, you automatically have that kind of confidence boost and a little bit of something in your step,” Thompson said. “You have that extra confidence going into the season that you know you can do it and you just kinda grow from there.”
The Cubs have a lot of new arms in camp this spring, so there are a lot of different paths Thompson could take in April. If he doesn’t crack the rotation, he’s an option in the Opening Day bullpen or the Cubs could decide to send him down to Triple-A for more depth and more experience.
Cubs fans held their collective breath Monday afternoon as top prospect Brennen Davis was hit in the right knee with a pitch.
In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Reds pitcher Graham Ashcraft plunked Michael Hermosillo and Davis in a span of 3 pitches. Davis went down in pain but initially stayed in the game.
A couple batters later, Davis was lifted for a pinch-runner. He is listed as “day to day” with a right knee contusion.
On Saturday, Davis showed off his immense potential with an opposite field blast:
Get used to this. pic.twitter.com/FHzyeQlECk— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 20, 2022