He’s the top-rated prospect in the Cubs system, a lefty with a triple-digit fastball and nasty slider, and he’s already made his MLB debut. But Brailyn Márquez still has a long way to go before he’s ready to take the bump every fifth day, or whatever interval the Cubs need to employ, this season in Chicago. He’s already made huge strides since 2019, not the least of which concerned his maturity.
Whether it was a result of his natural talent or just the hubris of youth, probably a mix of both, Márquez wasn’t the most diligent worker when it came to his off-days. He didn’t really care to put in the extra work and he wanted to strike everyone out with a breaking ball that sometimes had a mind of its own. You could almost see the moment his improved discipline paid off, though, as he fired a South Bend Cubs record 14 strikeouts on July 25, 2019.
He was promoted to Myrtle Beach shortly thereafter and surely would have seen at least Double-A last season were it not for the pandemic. Instead, he headed back to South Bend to train at the Cubs’ alternate site before getting the call to join the big club for the last game of the season.
Márquez’s performance that afternoon was about what you’d expect from a 21-year-old who was pitching through an adrenaline dump. His control was wonky as he searched in vain for a consistent release point, leading to five runs on three walks, two hits, and two wild pitches. He did manage to strike out AL MVP José Abreu on a 99 mph fastball at the letters, so that was fun.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was invited to take that step that we all dream of,” Marquez recently told MLB.com (translated from Spanish). “I felt really happy to be next to a lot of professionals, to spend time with them, learn from them. I know it wasn’t my best debut, but I learned a lot of things that I didn’t learn when I was in the Minors.”
He was speaking from MLB’s Rookie Program, a joint venture between the league and the MLB Players Association, which was held virtually this year after taking place in Miami each of the past two years. The program gives young players a crash course in a variety of off-the-field topics and skills that can help them once they’re up in the majors. For Márquez, the financial aspect made the biggest impact.
“The one that stood out was the one about money, learning about how they handle themselves when they get a contract and they have relatives, cousins, people that are asking them for money for things they need. Sometimes, as a human being — like Nelson Cruz said — how can you tell them no?
“Because they’re people that sometimes need help from you and from your good heart, you want to help them. But sometimes you need to handle yourself well, because a lot [ask] not for necessary things, [but] to use the money for other things. And that’s why we need to learn how you should handle your money.”
Not that he’ll need to worry much about people hitting him up for money if he’s pulling down a minor league paycheck once the season starts. But with the Cubs likely in need of pitching depth beyond what they’re able to pick up via non-guaranteed contracts this winter, Márquez may well get a chance to prove his debut was an aberration.
“Day by day, I used my time [at the alternate site] to work hard and get the best out of myself so that in 2021, I can try to give the best of myself when Spring Training starts,” Marquez explained. “It’s what I’ve been doing since my first year: Work hard, not put in my mind, ‘I can’t’, but, ‘Yes, I can do it’, and that way I can keep moving forward.”
Sounds like he’s already got the Crash Davis Axiom Manual down cold, now all that’s left is to learn to harness that extra energy and avoid the impulse to buy a giant gold eagle bracelet. In all seriousness, Márquez can be a DUDE if he’s able to keep building upon the lessons he’s learned over the last two seasons. While that alone won’t be enough to replace nearly a decade of stagnant pitching development, it’s a helluva nice move in the right direction.