Where Brailyn Marquez fits in Cubs postseason picture
Sunday’s game might not have meant anything for the Cubs in the standings, but it sure was important in other aspects.
One such area was the MLB debut of Brailyn Marquez, the organization’s top pitching prospect. The Cubs added him to the roster ahead of Sunday’s game in hopes of getting a look at him in live action.
That played out as Marquez came on for the 8th inning with a big lead. He gave up 5 runs, but also recorded his first career strikeout by blowing a 99 mph fastball by White Sox MVP candidate Jose Abreu.
“It looked like it took him a minute to settle in,” David Ross said. “I remember my first big-league at-bat or big-league start. There’s so much going on emotional-wise.
“I’m not gonna judge the kid on that. We’ll see how it pans out. I’m happy he got his debut in the big leagues and got a strikeout. That’s nice.”
Marquez, 21, has tantalizing potential as a 6-foot-4 left-hander who touts a fastball that can reach triple digits. He consistently touched 98 and 99 mph with his heater Sunday.
In the final-tune up before the playoffs, it was a perfect opportunity for the Cubs to see what they have in Marquez and continue the discussion about what kind of factor he could be for this team in the postseason.
It’s become common around the game recently where young flamethrowing pitchers arrive up at the end of a regular season and provide a dynamic look for their team’s bullpen. The White Sox have their own option in Garrett Crochet, their 2020 1st-round pick who threw 2 scoreless innings against the Cubs Saturday.
“The goal for making this move right here at the end is just see how he handles the environment, what he can do,” Ross said. “For me to trust somebody, you want to get your eyes on him in real competition and being able to bring him in that environment at the next level made some sense with his stuff.”
Marquez spent all of 2019 pitching in Class-A ball where he impressed in 22 starts between two levels, going 9-5 with a 3.13 ERA and 11.1 K/9 (128 strikeouts in 103.2 innings).
He spent the entire 2020 campaign working at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend and the team added him to its 40-man player pool for the postseason late last week.
“It’s been a process to get him to this point and he’s worked hard and deserves this opportunity,” Theo Epstein said. “The hiatus was tough on him. When he showed up back when we started going again at the alternate site, he needed to get in shape, which he did – he worked extremely hard to get in good shape. And then there were some mechanical issues he needed to work through. He put in the work, worked through those mechanical issues and then it was a process of getting his stuff back up to where it had been and then refining it.
“He’s actually made a lot of improvements. He’s added some pitches. His sinker is a relatively new pitch for him. That’s been looking really effective and his changeup, as well. The last few weeks, he’s really come on strong.”
This fall’s postseason is different in that there are no off-days for travel like standard playoff series. So the Cubs will play the best-of-3 Wild-Card series next week at Wrigley Field on consecutive days and the same thing will happen for the Division Series and Championship Series before the typical off-days come back into effect for the World Series.
The Cubs have their sights set on a deep playoff run, so they want to have as many pitching options at their disposal as possible.
That’s where Marquez comes in.
“If we do what we’re planning on doing and playing deep into October, in some of these longer series, there are no off-days,” Epstein said. “You’re gonna need a deep roster of pitching. You’re gonna need a lot of options to get through these series of no off-days. We felt like Brailyn could put himself in position to be an option for us potentially and we wanted him to at least have an inning in the big leagues so that he could get comfortable in case something happens and he’s an option for us in the postseason.
“I know people were calling for him earlier. He wasn’t ready. It was definitely a process, but we’re really comfortable with where he is right now. In fact, we’re excited about where he is right now. Happy for him to have this opportunity and we’ll see what happens going forward. I wouldn’t read too much into this except that we want to give him that inning to get comfortable and that at least puts him on the radar screen as we move forward.”