The Cubs are entering Year 9 under Theo Epstein and have yet to draft/sign and develop a homegrown, impact starting pitcher (though Adbert Alzolay could be one). It’s been the Achilles heel of Epstein’s front office, which consequentially has had to pour a ton of money and assets into building a competitive rotation.
Brailyn Marquez, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, is looking more and more like a guy who will buck that trend in the near future.
“[We have] really high expectations,” said Matt Dorey, Cubs senior director of player development, of Marquez at Cubs Convention. “Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development."
The Cubs signed Marquez out of the Dominican Republic in August 2015. He’s the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, behind Nico Hoerner. The 21-year-old is also Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect and No. 68 overall.
Marquez climbed the prospect ladder after a ridiculous finish to 2019. He allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his last 10 starts, earning a promotion to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach from Single-A South Bend. In five starts post-promotion, he allowed five earned runs in 26 1/3 innings (1.71 ERA), striking out 26 batters compared to seven walks (1.06 WHIP).
Marquez has elite fastball velocity, sitting 96-99 mph (per Baseball Prospectus) while topping out at 102 mph last season. His primary off-speed pitch is a slider, which has plenty of swing-and-miss potential.
Brailyn Marquez and his slider. pic.twitter.com/7dcCILmcpI— No — I'm still Rael (@thats_so_cub) July 25, 2019
After Marquez posted career highs in starts (22) and innings (103 2/3) last season, the Cubs have no intention of limiting him in 2020. Dorey couldn't say for sure where the lefty will start the season — it's too early to tell — but offered up Double-A as a guess.
“We wanna see how he comes into camp, making sure that — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective,” Dorey said. “We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out in this next really long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year."
Marquez reaching the big leagues this season is probably unrealistic, but a 2021 arrival isn't — and it would be huge for the Cubs. Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and possibly Jon Lester (2021 vesting option) will hit free agency next offseason, and you can’t build a team through free agency and trades forever.
In fact, the Cubs’ current financial issues can partially be attributed to their failure to develop homegrown starters and having to buy them.
(Note: Kyle Hendricks was homegrown in the Cubs farm system, but since they acquired him from the Rangers in July 2012, it doesn’t really count.)
-Jon Lester — signed a six-year, $155 million deal (December 2014)
-Jose Quintana — acquired for four minor leaguers, including top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease (July 2017)
-Tyler Chatwood — signed a three-year, $38 million deal (December 2017)
-Yu Darvish — signed a six-year, $126 million deal (February 2018)
The Cubs won the 2016 World Series by literally doing the opposite with their position player group. They need homegrown, impact arms to ascend sooner than later, and Marquez is lined up to do just that.
“We just want to have him stay healthy and come in and get to know a lot of our new pitching coaches — which will be important — that will spend a lot of time with him this year," Dorey said. "We’re really excited about Brailyn.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.