Although there was plenty for us to enjoy on the Cubs minor league front this season (the deadline prospect boon, the dominance at the lowest levels, the emergence of DJ Herz, and the rise of Brennen Davis all come to mind), there was also some considerable disappointment, particularly on the health front. Two of the Cubs’ top prospects, for example, catcher Miguel Amaya and lefty Brailyn Márquez, missed most of the 2021 season with injuries after losing basically all of 2020 to the pandemic.
That hurts, perhaps especially for Márquez, who got a cup of coffee in Chicago at the very end of 2020 and likely had his eyes on the majors all year. Not only did that not happen thanks to a combination of COVID, a shoulder strain, and a setback, but Márquez didn’t even throw a single minor league inning this year. He has thus never pitched in the minors above High-A.
But if everything Cubs President Jed Hoyer said in his end-of-season presser is true, Márquez may be back in Chicago sooner than we would’ve expected: “Hopefully he’s healthy and ready to go this spring and he can be shot in the arm for us for sure.”
Although he doesn’t say it directly right there, the full slate of comments from Hoyer – and the framing from Tony Andracki – all point to a healthy serving of big league innings for Márquez next season … which is quite a bit of confidence coming from the man in charge. And a very optimistic expectation for a guy who, again, didn’t pitch this season and had 0.2 innings on the books in 2020 (more on Márquez’s health status coming down below – spoiler: it’s good news).
And even though Hoyer isn’t entirely clear on how the Cubs would use Márquez next season, it seems pretty clear that they do plan to make it work.
“[Márquez’s role is] unclear. Pitching weapon, so to speak,” Hoyer said. “It’s valid to ask how many innings he’s going to have next year. We’re gonna have to be careful, coming off of a COVID season, coming off of a season he didn’t pitch. I think those are constantly issues that we’re having to ask and address. We’re gonna have innings limits on him. We have to figure out when to use that — not dissimilar to the way we had to use Adbert [Alzolay] this year, that we had to be aware of his health and aware of his innings. I think our staff did a really good job with Adbert of navigating those things.”
"He's healthy and throwing and ready to go."
Jed Hoyer on getting Brailyn Márquez ready for the 2022 season. pic.twitter.com/AOQPJxm8p7
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) October 11, 2021
I love all of that, especially the multiple mentions of Adbert Alzolay. And that does track with some of the pitching philosophy espoused by Hoyer at the Cubs end of season press conference last week:
Loved Hoyer’s answer on bringing young starters up through the bullpen first (in multi-inning appearances) to teach them that they can be aggressive earlier and longer as a starter than they realize.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 6, 2021
In short, Hoyer mentioned his belief in the process of bringing starting pitching prospects up through the bullpen not only to (1) expose them to big league hitters and (2) learn which pitches actually play at that level, but also (3) to teach them that they can be more aggressive as a starter/earlier in their appearances than they may otherwise realize. And the cool thing is, for Márquez in particular, this approach can kill two birds with one stone (all that good big league exposure stuff plus artificially limiting innings for a guy who hasn’t throw a whole lot over the last few years).
But that’s also where the good health news comes in. According to Hoyer, Márquez is healthy and throwing “right now.” It sounds like he’s going to start ramping down soon, but only because “There’s no point in ramping him up, having him throw a ton right now, shutting it back down and doing that again.” Instead, the Cubs have their eyes set on Spring Training 2022 and using Márquez at the big league level as a “shot in the arm” next season.
Something else to consider: there’s no reason for the Cubs to rush him to the big leagues. Márquez, 22, is still quite young, has minor league options remaining, and hasn’t even pitched at the Double-A level. A much more conservative approach wouldn’t have been shocking. So all the planning and confidence from Hoyer – about Márquez contributing in the big leagues next year – is really something. Can I be super optimistic and say it suggests he’s throwing really well right now?
Ultimately, we don’t know if Márquez’s future lies in the bullpen or the rotation. The injuries certainly don’t improve your confidence for the latter, but at least we’ll all get a first-hand look at his potential next season, which could accelerate his personal timeline while helping the Cubs win in the process.