Cubs president Theo Epstein said “I wouldn’t read too much into” the big-league promotion Sunday of power-pitching top prospect Brailyn Marquez, who also was added Thursday to the club’s list of players eligible for the postseason.
And after the left-hander’s anxious-looking, three-walk, five-run debut Sunday, maybe there’s even less to read into it.
But he’s here for a reason. And history says the kind of big arm that can strike out José Abreu with high 99-mph heat and throw a slider for strikes — as he demonstrated amid the butterflies Sunday — can have lightning-in-a-bottle postseason impact for a contender.
“I think that’s the goal,” manager David Ross said. “Just let the kid come in and have his debut and take that couple steps here. You want to get your eyes on him in real competition.”
Epstein talked about Marquez as a depth “option” if needed during a postseason in which no days off are scheduled within a series until the World Series.
But from Francisco Rodríguez for the Angels in 2002 to David Price for the Rays in 2008 and Brandon Finnegan for the Royals in 2014, October has had its share of pitchers who made their debuts in September just in time to follow with impact performances in the postseason for teams that reached the World Series.
“That’s definitely a trend around the league,” Ross said. “They [White Sox] had a guy actually [Saturday] night that’s pretty impressive.”
That was Garrett Crochet, who, like Finnegan before him, has debuted during his draft year — and like Finnegan, Price and Rodriguez has finished September with lights-out stuff (no walks, no runs in eight innings across five appearances).
Marquez only got one game, without much in the way of highlights beyond that strikeout of the Sox MVP candidate and the 100-mph pitch he threw Edwin Encarnación, the next batter (albeit, one of four balls to him).
But Marquez has earned the attention of the brass after an impressive progression at alternate-site South Bend after already having established himself as Baseball America’s 37th-ranked prospect before the season.
And his manager, citing the debut nerves, said after the game, “I’m not going to judge the kid on that. We’ll see how it pans out.”
Maybe Marquez hangs around as emergency depth and isn’t needed. The Cubs might have to get out of the first round against the Marlins before he would have a chance to be in the mix.
But if having a big, young strikeout arm has ever been considered a weapon for its potential to ambush a field that hasn’t had a chance to see him, that has never been more the case than now, during a year of unknowns and new norms — including no scouts allowed in ballparks or alternate sites all season.
If he’s not a true X factor, Marquez is at least a variable among available pitchers for the Cubs, at the very least a name to keep an eye on if the Cubs start winning games in October.