The organizational breakdown series this year has examined guys who could be ready to help the system in the next two years, but this one is going to be a little different. Rather than categories like “Most likely to succeed,” “Ready to help in 2020,” and “Sleeper,” we are going to look mainly at two left-handed starters who could be ready at some point over the next year.
With purse strings tightening while Jon Lester and José Quintana finish out their contracts, there is some urgency to get at least on lefty ready to take a spot in the rotation.
One of the biggest shocks this offseason came when Baseball America named Brailyn Marquez as the Cubs’ number one prospect. Marquez took a big leap in his development this year when his changeup started taking a new shape due to a different arm slot, but things really clicked in stages. You could see the changeup improve over the first half of the year and his efficiency really ticked up in July when he ditched his slider in favor of the fastball with two strikes. His strikeouts skyrocketed and he pitched much deeper into games as a result.
It is weird watching a game on TV that you covered live. But this moment is when Brailyn Marquez Finally figured out he didn’t have to use a slider to get strikeouts all the time. pic.twitter.com/FBTTWvOLz0
— Nick Fury? (@RealCubsAnalyst) November 9, 2019
Marquez struck out 41 and posted a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 July innings at South Bend, which earned him a promotion to Myrtle Beach. He did more of the same in August, putting up a 1.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 20 innings to show that he’s ready to move up. Marquez should start the year at Double-A Tennessee and we may know soon enough whether he could be in Chicago by the middle of the summer. Expect to see him get a couple of starts with the big league club in spring training.
After throwing just over 100 innings in 2019, a career high, Marquez’s arm is not going to be stretched out enough to make him a viable MLB starter this year. What’s more, 2020 will be his first year in a five-man rotation. A realistic target for him is 120-140 innings, so the Cubs could move him to the ‘pen later in the summer if he proves he is ready to finish his development at the MLB level. That would allow his 102 mph fastball to really eat.
The Hollywood Story
Jack Patterson began his Cubs career as a 32nd round pick in 2018 out of Bryant University, where he missed a year and a half due to a head injury suffered on a comebacker. He spent most of his first year as a pro pitching in Mesa before getting a cup of coffee in Eugene and did not make the South Bend squad our of camp this past season. Some would find that disappointing, but it turned out to be the best thing for Patterson’s career.
He eventually get to South Bend later in the spring and dominated as a long reliever, posting a 2.34 ERA over 16 games with just one start. When he got to Myrtle Beach, he made five starts and did not allow a single run over 23.2 innings. He then got the bump to Tennessee and made three starts with a 2.63 ERA over 13.2 innings to end the year.
The big change for Patterson this year was the huge leap in his fastball, which went from 89-91, sometimes hitting 92, to sitting 92-93 and topping out at 95. His secondaries also began improving as well, with the slider you see in the video below proving deadly to hitters on both sides of the plate.
— Nick Fury? (@RealCubsAnalyst) December 13, 2019
Going from a late-round pick to being on the verge of making it to the majors in less than two years is quite a story, particularly for an organization that has had trouble developing even highly-drafted arms. If Patterson can sustain the performance he put up in 2019, there’s really nothing to stand in his way. While it’s reasonable to expect a little regression or at least a plateau, Patterson performance over the first couple of months of 2020 is going to be one of the most interesting follows for the new season.
Two more possibilities
Justin Steele has been battling injuries the past two summers after having Tommy John surgery in August of 2017. He’s currently on the 40-man roster and the Cubs are going to have to decide fairly quickly whether he’s still a starter or has a better future in the bullpen. It’s going to be one of the most interesting stories of spring training.
Brendon Little looked good last year at South Bend after he got healthy and he was more than ready to move up to Myrtle Beach from what I saw of him, but things did not go very well once he earned the promotion. His velocity was back to 93-95 most days and his curveball was excellent, but his command was an issue. The former first round pick from 2017 will be 23 for most of 2020 and really needs to show something. Ideally, he will start the year healthy at Myrtle Beach, command his pitches, and somehow make his way Tennessee later this summer.
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