Last week, I talked about the youngest regular position player in the Appalachian League: Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, who was named the circuit’s top prospect by Baseball America after the season. Sticking with the youth theme in the Appy, this week I’m going to focus on the league’s youngest regular starting pitcher, 18-year-old Rays righthander German Marquez. Marquez did not appear on BA’s top 20 postseason Appy prospects, but with solid performance (3.50 FIP), a nice arsenal, and plenty of time and room to develop further, I’d argue he deserves to be placed squarely among the circuit’s most intriguing players, and is definitely a player to watch.
The first thing that jumps out about Marquez on the stat sheet is his birth date: February 22, 1995. He was the youngest pitcher to throw more than 25 innings at the Rookie-Advanced level in 2013, working 53 1/3 frames across twelve starts. He made his professional debut in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2012 as a 17-year-old and was not effective, with a 29/20 K/BB, 6.82 ERA, and 5.21 FIP in 34 1/3 innings as a swingman. The fact that he was skipped from the VSL–generally considered to be the least competitive league in professional baseball–over the Rays Dominican and Gulf Coast affiliates and up to Princeton for the 2013 season says something about how high the organization is on the young righthander. The fact that he improved across the board (38/20 K/BB, 4.06 ERA, 3.50 FIP in 53 1/3 innings) despite the aggressive promotion speaks very positively to his ability to improve quickly.
That’s all very positive news, but this is every bit as important:
That is Marquez unleashing a 94-mph fastball. He’ll reach that velocity a few times an outing, and he mostly works at 90-93 and holds that velocity throughout his starts, as you can see in my video of two of his August games:
Of course, Marquez is still treated with kid gloves–he never worked more than five innings in an outing–but the fact that he already has solid-average velocity and can hold it for five innings at age 18 is impressive. Consider that Jays righthander Chase DeJong, who topped BA’s Appalachian League pitching prospect list, started out at a similar velocity but tended to drop to the 87-90 mph range after the first time through the order or so.
Note also that Marquez generates his velocity without utilizing a high-effort delivery. He has a fluid, functional motion that incorporates his lower half well and allows him to get considerable momentum toward the plate. His delivery is just a tad stiff and long on the back side, and his tempo to the plate is a touch slower than optimal, so he’ll sometimes get out of sync in the back and lose his release point. Still, he’s undoubtedly more polished than the majority of 18-year-old hurlers and should eliminate most of his inconsistency as he gains more experience.
According to his MLBFarm page, 99 of the 177 balls in play against Marquez (55.9%) were grounders, and a look at the video shows that he tends to pound the lower half of the strike zone rather than trying to blow his fastball by everyone at the letters. It’s a mature approach to pitching that should serve Marquez well as he advances. His fastball isn’t gifted with tremendous natural sink, but he gets more downward plane than you’d expect from a 6’1″ pitcher thanks to a high three-quarters arm slot and good extension. He does a nice job keeping the ball out of mistake areas and allowed just two homers all season, including none to righthanders.
The flip side of the groundball-heavy approach is that Marquez has yet to show big strikeout ability. Setting 38 batters down in 53 1/3 innings is hardly dominant, good for a 16.9% strikeout rate, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was south of 2/1. Needless to say, these numbers will have to improve at higher levels if he is to be a significant major league contributor.
Of course, it’s pretty ludicrous to write off an 18-year-old based on merely solid production at an advanced level, much as it’s silly to write off the 17-year-old Rosario for his .241/.279/.358 line. And there’s plenty of reason for optimism regarding Marquez’s long-term bat-missing capabilities.
The biggest piece of evidence to support this is that Marquez already throws a solid curveball to go with his heater. Many Appy League pitchers tend to throw bloop curves that often dip into the upper 60s, but Marquez is not a member of that camp, utilizing a tight breaker that usually arrives at 77-79 with good shape. Moreover, he shows the ability to spot the pitch in the strike zone:
The angle here (which, unfortunately, is about the best angle one can get at H.P. Hunnicutt Field) doesn’t do a great job illuminating the depth of the pitch (which is acceptable, though not overwhelming), but one can see it’s a sharp, late power breaker that can induce bad swings and reactions. In the top image, Kelvin Ortiz flinches at a ball that comes back into the strike zone, and in the bottom one, Zach Granite takes a late, awkward, indecisive cut at a the pitch.
Marquez also shows the ability to bury the pitch and get hitters to chase:
Of course, the common maxim is that pitchers who rely on throwing junk like this to get low-minors batters out will find themselves in trouble in the upper minors against players with sounder batting eyes, but again, Marquez is not reliant on pitches like this–they supplement an attack that focuses on throwing strikes. The fact that Marquez already can throw the curve for a quality strike means that batters can’t just lay off the pitch, making chase offerings more likely to be effective.
Marquez’s third pitch is a changeup that typically arrives in the 82-85 mph range. It’s far inferior to the fastball and curve, but he does show a willingness to throw the pitch, which is about all one can ask from an 18-year-old–diverse arsenals aren’t really expected from pitchers this young. As with the curve, he’s not afraid to throw the pitch for strikes, which occasionally can lead to positive results just based on the fact that it creates a third speed for batters to worry about:
The pitch clearly needs work in the long run, as it’s fairly straight right now, but Marquez shows some feel for it, keeping the speed relatively consistent (and about 7-9 mph slower than his fastball, which is solid) and spotting it with reasonable effectiveness.
Overall, Marquez has a good low-90s fastball and upper-70s power curve and a somewhat usable low-to-mid-80s changeup, all coming from a sound delivery. That’s a heck of a place to be at age 18, though plenty of work remains. Interestingly, what tripped Marquez up statistically in 2013 is pretty clear here:
vs. RHB: 0 HR, 6.3% BB%, 24.4% K%, 2.40 FIP, .224/.278/.302
vs. LHB: 2 HR, 12.2% BB%, 7.1% K%, 5.80 FIP, .244/.340/.427
He can’t do anything with lefthanders right now, except for the fact that he limited them to a .240 BABIP (as opposed to .302 for righties). This reflects two issues: first, the changeup isn’t up to par, and second, Marquez tends to work away-away-away to lefthanders, the earlier-shown curveball to Granite being a rare exception. He seems to work the arm side of the plate better than the glove side, even to righthanders, so claiming the other side of the plate with his fastball would go a long way toward allowing Marquez to control the strike zone adequately against southpaws. Right now, his approach to them seems entirely predicated on damage control, and it’s worked in the sense that it’s limited the BABIP (which was also 83 points lower against southpaws in his 2012 VSL campaign despite another drastic K/BB platoon split) and thus made the triple-slash line acceptable. Eventually, though, Marquez will be in leagues where the lefthanded batters are capable of driving outer-half heat to the opposite field if they can sit on it, and he’ll need to make improvements in his changeup and sequencing in order to remain a viable starting pitcher when that happens. Again, though, seeing as he’s so young and has come very far very fast, this is merely something to keep an eye on, not something that spells likely disaster down the road.
The flip side of this, of course, is that the numbers reveal Marquez to already be rather devastasting to righthanded batters, something that points more to his upside than his overall statline does. He’s already quite polished for a pitcher his age, and he still has some room to add strength to his frame and perhaps pick up another tick or two on the radar gun. There’s also plenty of time and room for adjustments that would give him increased consistency and effectiveness across the board–polished as he is, it’s not as if Marquez has no avenues for improvement. He may be overlooked due to his pedestrian numbers, but Marquez is in an organization with an excellent track record for developing pitchers and already has a lot of positives going for him. It’s not hard to see him rounding into a very effective mid-rotation starter, and he’s undoubtedly one of the most intriguing international hurlers to make their US debuts in 2013. He’s far away, but could rise up prospect lists quickly in 2013 if he shows the ability to adjust to higher-level lefthanded hitters.