He once boasted to Yankees farm director Mark Newman that he’d be able to hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball one day. Close, but no cigar.
But his most recent goal? Well, the road to that one starts later today. The talented 22-year-old righty makes his Double-A debut Saturday afternoon, but also recently got to experience his first big league camp. He paid particular attention to CC Sabathia.
“I know I’m not left-handed, but I watched CC a lot because I want to eventually be an Opening Day starter,” he said.
“You’ve got to go big. I want to be in the big leagues, but hey, eventually you get to that role and you want to be an Opening Day starter.”
For now, however, Marshall isn’t even the Thunder’s number one man in the rotation, although he unquestionably has the highest ceiling of anyone in it.
“He’s got great stuff. That guy, he’s got a ton,” said Thunder catcher Jose Gil, who caught Marshall during simulated games in spring training.
“He’s got three pitches he throws pretty well. He’s got enormous talent, so I’m going to try to help as much as I can.”
Marshall throws a hard sinker, a slider and a devastating changeup that pitching coach Tommy Phelps described as “really, really good.” But he never did hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, a claim he chalked up to being “young and dumb.”
“You want to throw hard. I got up to 98 one game, and I was like, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” Marshall said.
“I’d never thrown hard, and I was like, ‘You know what, maybe I could throw 100 one day.’ But then I was like let me just focus on throwing strikes and getting the ball down, and that was the biggest thing I learned. After coming off Tommy John, that’s one thing we worked on, just throwing strikes. Don’t worry about how hard you’re throwing, just get out there and hit the catcher’s mitt and you’ll be fine. That was the biggest thing I learned, that it doesn’t matter how fast you throw.”
Everything seemed to change for Marshall on July 31, 2009, the date of his aforementioned procedure. He came back just ten months later and performed well, but hesitation the following off-season got him off to a poor start with High-A Tampa in 2011.
“After TJ, one thing we worked on was to keep the same arm slot,” he said.
“I did a real good job after TJ. I think taking off those about four or five months from throwing in the offseason, I think that’s what kind of hurt. I was like, ‘I’ve got to start picking up the ball,’ but I was scared to throw again. I was trying to over exaggerate getting over the top and it wasn’t the same. I was lucky to fix it.”
Marshall’s mechanics were off in April. A natural three-quarters arm slot thrower, he was throwing from too far over the top, and the results showed — He pitched to a 9.00 ERA that first month. Initially, he couldn’t fix the problem, but one day it clicked. He tricked himself by trying to throw sidearm, and when he looked at where his arm slot actually was, he’d returned to his original three-quarter release.
“The strikeouts went up and the walks went down. The numbers were a lot better,” Marshall said.
“It was probably a couple starts (to transition back to normal). I just fixed it in-between starts, and it got back and I was kind of back and forth in the game. After a couple games, it was back to normal. It felt better. The velo went back up, and I threw a lot more strikes.”
For most fans, changing your arm slot may seem pretty simple. Just drop down or bring it up, and everything stays the same. The transition, Marshall says, was much bigger than he anticipated.
“It makes a huge difference,” he said.
“First of all, my velo went down. It’s like learning how to throw again, it’s totally different. You’ve got to learn how to throw strikes, you’ve got to learn how to throw all your offspeed pitches, and it’s definitely hard. It hurts your arm, too. You’ve been throwing one way your whole life, and to come in and change it, it’s tough. It’s a big time mental game when you change your arm slot, it’s tough.”
Marshall ended up putting together a fine season in the Florida State League — A 9-7 record with a 3.78 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 140 innings — and had many people wondering if his much anticipated Double-A debut might happen before the 2011 season ended.
Including Marshall himself.
“I was (surprised I didn’t come up here last year), but I understand why they kept me down,” he said.
“We had a lot of transactions and people getting hurt down there. Last year, all I wanted to do is stay healthy. It didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to have a healthy season. I put up pretty good numbers, I was pleased with last year, especially the end of it.”
Instead, the first Double-A pitch of his career will leave his right hand around 1:07 PM this afternoon. For the friendly fireballer, rated the Yankees 11th-best prospect by Baseball America, it can’t come soon enough.
“I’m excited,” he said.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since the last game last year, so I’m just ready to get back on the mound and get the season started and go from there. Hopefully, this will be a good year.”
And for those who’ve seen the hype around him, it probably can’t come soon enough for them, either.
“People are starting to talk quite a bit about Brett, which is great,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“He’s a young pitcher with some pretty good stuff, but the thing you want to see is, ‘What does he got?’ You’re only going to see what he’s got once the game begins. If he does what everyone expects him to do, he should be pretty good out there. You just hope that he’s going to put a pretty good season together. There’s always that anticipation of ‘This guy’s got it.’ Hopefully, we’ll be able to say that (today).”
While many feel he was talented enough to be the team’s Opening Day starter, it may be turn out to be a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t. He spent the past two nights charting the games, and feels that may give him another advantage before even throwing a single pitch at Waterfront Park.
“Most of the guys, I’d faced coming up. I faced them all last year when we played Dunedin, and the year before,” he said. “You kind of learn what the hitters like and what they don’t like, and I think it’s a big plus I got to see them for two games before I get out there.”
As evidenced by the goals he sets, Marshall is motivated, not only to make up for lost time caused by that Tommy John surgery, but to continue climbing the organizational ladder to fulfill his dreams. More focused on what’s ahead of him instead of who’s ahead of him en route to getting there, he continues to draw off of his positive experience at his first big league camp to make that fantasy a reality.
“It was amazing, I had a lot of fun,” he said.
“Pitchers-wise, I tried to look at the starters, like CC and Phil Hughes and those guys. That’s hopefully what I will be one day, a Yankees starter. Just kind of see what they do and see how they go about things, and just talk to them a lot. I got to watch those guys up there and learn from them, and ask a lot of questions. It makes you not want to leave. It makes you want to work harder to get back there one day.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com // Twitter: Mashmore98
Photo courtesy Dave Schofield, Trenton Thunder