Don't forget Brailyn Márquez in the 2022 crossroad season
/ by Gordon Wittenmyer
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — You know Adbert and Manny and Justin and Keegan.
(Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen?)
But you remember the most powerfulBabieseveryone's pitching prospect?
Oops, what? WHERE?
Don't look now, but Brailyn Márquez is turning it on again in his latest job after a season of injuries, COVID-19 and setbacks. Maybe even in time to help the Cubs during a crucial turning point for the 2022 season — albeit with a well-watched limited workload capacity.
With all eyes on what's next for the Cubs after they clear the trade deadline and how quickly they can rebuild a competitive roster, much of the internal focus has been on the development of rookies Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Manny . Rodriguez.
All but forgotten was the No. 2 prospect in the system — the only Cubs pitcher to make any of this year's top 100 rankings.
"There's definitely that opportunity," said farm manager Matt Dorey. “But it will really come down to how Brailyn responds this offseason and going into camp. … He has the stuff to contribute.”
That whole "opportunity" thing might now sound like it's not saying much for a guy who made his major league debut in the final game of the shortened 2020 season.
But Márquez hasn't played in a game since that 100-mph, seven-hit debut against the White Sox (in which he struck out one, walked three and scored five).
"It's been a weird year for him," Dorey said.
In fact, it's been a strange and scary year across the farm system for some of the Cubs' most promising prospects in the first season since the pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor-league season.
Márquez heads the list of four 2021 injury prospects to watch as the Cubs look to build their next competitive core — one of two who might have been in the big leagues at some point this year if not for the injuries:
1. Brailyn Márquez (consensus No. 2 in Cubs system, top-100 in MLB)
ONEshoulder strain, a bout with COVID-19 and then a shoulder setback wiped out enough of the big left-hander's season by late summer that the Cubs have taken an "absolutely zero rush" approach as he rebuilds his bullpen.
"It was nothing structural, thankfully," Dorey said. "We had multiple MRIs and pictures and ruled it all out, which was great."
The Cubs are leaving the door open for potential games in the Arizona Fall League (Oct. 13-Nov. 13) but are more focused on "checking every box for his rehab and pitching schedule," with appearances back at home during the Dominican Winter League ability.
Either way, as long as he stays healthy, Márquez is on the radar for the Cubs in 2022 — subject to a "very conservative" approach as they plan for what would be his first real season since 2019.
Whatever workload range the Cubs land on as a plan for a healthy, primed Márquez, then it becomes a question of allowing him to reach his threshold earlier in the year or targeting the back end of the season.
A relative might be Michael Kopech of the White Sox, who after missing two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a COVID exemption returned to pitch out of the Sox bullpen this year in a carefully managed plan.
Márquez's performance in spring training may dictate many details.
“For a young guy coming in to make an impact, healthy, I think that's what we're trying to push him to get to. And I hope he comes back and goes out and wins a spot,” Dorey said. "But I think we will be conservative.
"I think it's more [likely] to 'get on the radar and go report in the minor leagues and know you're just a phone call away.'
See: Steele and Thompson, 2021.
2. Miguel Amaya (No. 4 Cubs prospect MLB Pipeline, No. 5 Baseball America)
The Cubs' top prospect in recent years, who played in the 2018 and 2019 Futures Games, has been shut down twice with elbow strain and is with Márquez in Arizona rebuilding after the latest setback.
A member of the Cubs' 40-man roster, Amaya almost certainly would have been in the big leagues this year had he been healthy because of a rash of injuries to the catching corps.
The good news, Dorey said, is that this is another case of an injury not considered serious enough to require surgery. But he disappeared in all but 23 games of a season that began and ended at Double-A Tennessee.
"Fortunately, it was relatively minor in terms of the bigger injuries that can happen to your elbow," Dorey said. "But very unfortunate timing because he was playing really well."
So far so good during the strength portion of the final rehab, Dorey said, giving Amaya an outside chance to get some at-bats in winter ball.
If he reaches the spring healthy and stays that way, he could see time in the big leagues by the end of next season, but he figures to need at least a good portion of the season to develop more at the high levels of the league.
3. Kohl Franklin (No. 10 in MLB system, No. 15 in BA)
Drafted in the sixth round in 2018, the big Single-A right-hander, who has some of the best velocity in the system, is in the later stages of a pitching program and ready to throw a mound again after missing the season with issues surrounding a shoulder tension.
"We had some bad luck with his shoulder," Dorey said. “Strains are not that serious in terms of intervention or surgery, but you have to be careful with them and they are a slow build-up.
“But he's doing great at the moment. I just talked to him the other day and he's feeling great. If anything, we need to pull the reins on him. The ball comes out very well. He's pain-free and we should be in a good spot once he finishes his pitching program to see if there's any reason to try to squeeze him into the Fall League or just wait until next spring training.”
4. Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 5 in MLB system, No. 3 BA)
Crowe-Armstrong is more of a name — "PCA as we call him," Dorey says — for the Cubs and fan base to dream about at this point, as he acquired the Mets' 2020 first-round pick.in the Javy Báez trade.
The left-handed, all-fielder tore his lip in his six games without a throwing shoulder in his first pro season this year and is "doing very well" in his continued rehab in Arizona since joining the Cubs organization.
He still hasn't been cleared to swing a bat, and the plan is to spend the entire offseason continuing his rehab program — with an outside chance of getting time for a few at-bats in winter ball.
Dorey said he is projected to be at full health and strength for minor-league minicamp in January, the Cubs plan to bring back next year after pandemic protocols derailed this year.
“He will hurry to go. He's really excited,” Dorey said of the outfielder the Cubs considered their first pick last year before taking local shortstop Ed Howard three spots ahead of PCA.
They could be teammates in the minor leagues next April.