Brailyn Marquez’s winding road to get back on a baseball field continues to challenge the former Chicago Cubs top prospect.
The last two years have certainly tested Marquez. Two bouts with COVID-19 at the onset of spring training in 2021 and 2022 eventually led to both of his seasons being wiped out from ripple effects of the illness. He developed myocarditis and was sidelined for eight months until November 2021.
Then Marquez, who was double vaccinated, caught COVID again shortly before coming to spring training last season. Left shoulder fatigue also cropped up, and he didn’t get into a game before season-ending surgical debridement on his left shoulder in June.
It remains unclear when Marquez will be back on a mound, let alone pitching in a game.
Marquez, who is part of the Cubs’ big-league camp as a nonroster invitee, has not yet started playing catch as he continues to come back from surgery nine months ago.
When he arrived in Arizona in February, Cubs doctors found his left shoulder was too tight and did not want Marquez to begin throwing. He has been on a stretching program for the last three weeks and needs to generate strength in his shoulder to be cleared for a throwing program. Marquez expects it will be a slow progression.
“I didn’t take it negatively,” Marquez told the Tribune through an interpreter. “I took it positively because the Cubs are caring for me, wanting to make sure that I knew what I needed to do and wanting to stay healthy.”
Marquez’s shoulder issue initially presented near the end of the 2021 season. Once rehab did not resolve the flare-ups of inflammation, Marquez went under the knife for doctors to get a better understanding of what was going on his shoulder, which was cleaned out. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Tribune Marquez was “feeling some things” as he worked back in the offseason.
Marquez, 24, hasn’t pitched in a game since September 2020 when he made his MLB debut. He last appeared in a minor-league game in 2019 and hasn’t pitched above High A.
Hottovy anticipates Marquez will begin to play catch soon, explaining how the training staff wanted to make sure the pitcher had time to build up strength before ramping things up.
“Just getting him around us and getting our eyes on him and getting our hands on him,” Hottovy said. “It’s hard because the communication in the offseason is tough so you don’t really know until they show up where things are. If there’s a weakness or a deficiency that we see in the testing, then we’re going to hold him back because we want to make sure that he’s perfectly healthy and feeling good.
“He’s obviously a guy that we know what he can do when he’s right and he’s healthy, and we’ve just got to get him to that point.”
Marquez’s health issues and struggles led to the Cubs opting to non-tender the lefty in November, a decision he understood. It moved Marquez off the Cubs 40-man roster, but by early December, he agreed to stay in the organization on a minor-league deal.
Marquez could have signed with another organization after he became a free agent. The Cubs, though, are where he wants to be — the only franchise he’s known since signing as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic in 2015.
“I don’t think any of the other teams would have given me the support that Chicago has given me and so I’m really grateful after going through two years of rehab and trying to get healthy,” Marquez said. “They were still behind me. They could have let me go and they didn’t. I just wanted to continue to be with the club.
“It’s been really hard trying to recover from what I’ve had when there’s things that are out of my control. Having the support of the Cubs behind me, my family — both those things helped me maintain my focus and maintain positivity.”