Setbacks behind, Marquez eyes path to bigs

March 21st, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- It was easy for Cubs fans to dream of Brailyn Marquez when he came up from the alternate training site two years ago and blew a triple-digit fastball by White Sox slugger José Abreu in a late September outing.

Dreaming turned into waiting, though it has since been downgraded to hoping.

"Let's just give him the freedom to develop how he needs to develop," Cubs manager David Ross said. "And not put any labels on him."

On Monday morning, Marquez arrived to camp for the Cubs following a delay due to a positive COVID-19 test. It is the second time the highly touted pitching prospect has dealt with the virus, dating back to the start of Spring Training a year ago.

Marquez's experience with COVID-19 a year ago was followed by fatigue issues that impacted his left shoulder. It was a myriad of health setbacks that resulted in a lost season for the lefty, who was considered the team's No. 1 prospect in each of the past two years. He will be No. 10 on MLB Pipeline's new Top 30 Cubs prospects list.

Ross does not want Marquez to get caught up in any of that.

"We're just going to take it from today," Ross said. "We try not to look back too much around here."

Back in October, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was looking forward to Marquez potentially being a "pitching weapon" for the club this season. The hard-throwing lefty's path to the big leagues may be faster in a multi-inning relief role.

Marquez, 23, certainly flashed his potential (and need for development) during his taste of the Majors on Sept. 27, 2020. In a rocky seven-batter showing against the White Sox, the lefty walked three, allowed five runs on two hits and recorded two outs.

Marquez also threw the two fastest pitches of the season for the Cubs, hitting 99.6 mph and 99.4 mph in that brief appearance, per Statcast. That type of fastball, paired with Marquez's secondary pitches, makes him an intriguing bullpen piece if health and performance align in 2022.

"I'm really excited for the opportunity," Marquez said via team interpreter Will Nadal. "It doesn't matter what position they need me -- if they need me as a starter or a reliever. Any way I can contribute again to the big league team, that's what I'm looking to do."

Given Marquez's recent history, expect a trip to the Minors before the big leagues become a possibility. He worked out at the alternate training site in 2020, but has not pitched regularly since '19, when he had a 3.13 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings for two A-level affiliates.

Marquez said he tested positive for COVID-19 nearly three weeks ago, requiring him to quarantine before traveling from the Dominican Republic. The pitcher noted that he is vaccinated, but he still dealt with symptoms before recovering and being cleared to head to camp.

The Cubs will be cautious with Marquez's buildup process, especially considering what happened last year. He said the shoulder troubles flared after he shut things down while dealing with COVID-19 last spring.

"When I started ramping up again, practicing throwing, I kind of felt it," he said. "I don't really know where it came from. It could’ve been from that layoff, from having COVID and being quarantined."

Marquez was throwing again before the end of the year, and evaluators within the Cubs' player development group raved about the strides he made with his workouts and nutrition. Even so, the pitcher found himself once again dealing with a setback at the outset of this season.

"It really isn't frustrating for me," Marquez said. "Moreso, I know how I'm affecting the team, or the possibility of affecting the team and the organization [by] not being there, being ready for them when they need me."

Ross reiterated that patience is necessary in this situation, and that includes trying to project the kind of role Marquez might play for the Cubs down the road.

"He'll define that. I'm not ready to define that for him," Ross said. "He missed all of last season. Let's give this kid a chance to establish himself as a professional player."