When Braxton Garrett was selected in the 2016 draft, the Marlins were in a much different position. José Fernández was in the middle of a sensational rookie campaign that captivated the baseball world every fifth day, the outfield was populated by budding stars Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton, and Jeffrey Loria was still perched in the owner’s box. The team hadn’t been able to seriously compete for the postseason despite their talent, but there was some reason to be excited with such an impressive young core on the field.
The addition of Garrett was seen as a solid selection—even in an especially strong prep pitching class, he was a standout. He had an advanced, broad frame with solid velocity from the left side, jumping from 87-89 as an underclassman to 90-92 as a senior, and his feel to spin the ball was perhaps the best in the class, in close competition with Matt Manning, who went two picks later to Detroit. While Garrett was primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher in these days (and still is), he also showed the makings of an impressive changeup. Had he honored his commitment to Vanderbilt, Garrett likely would’ve gone on to a tenure as one of the best hurlers in the college game, but the Marlins had no intention of letting that happen, and used a top 10 selection on him.
What happened next has been well documented. The team was sold and that ascendant nucleus was slowly dealt away to other clubs, putting a Marlins team that had been frustratingly close to competitiveness back into a full rebuild. In the midst of this whirlwind, Garrett was experiencing the first adversity of his baseball career—he had injured his elbow just as his pro career was getting off of the ground early in the 2017 season, and would go under the knife for Tommy John surgery that June. This was groan inducing, particularly for a Marlins fanbase that still had fresh memories of Tyler Kolek, the last prep hurler the team had selected in the first round, who suffered seemingly annual major arm injuries that have limited him to a total of 163 ⅔ innings in five seasons. Fans and evaluators had liked Garrett’s profile when he was drafted, but onlookers are always wary of prep arms because of the number of potential setbacks that they have to dodge on their way to the big leagues, and those concerns were given credence when he needed a major surgery so early in his career.
During his rehab, Garrett’s stock went dormant. Early elbow surgery has derailed many a career, and Garrett was not able to show much before suffering the injury. With bigger news engulfing the organization, he became somewhat overlooked during the 2018 season, and with a new ownership group in place we weren’t sure exactly where Garrett stood with the new leadership. He returned to the mound in 2019 with the Jupiter Hammerheads, and looked good as new in his first action since surgery. Garrett formed half of a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the Jupiter rotation with Trevor Rogers, the team’s subsequent first-round selection. Garrett quickly quieted concerns about how the procedure might have affected his projection with his performance, striking out over 10 batters per nine with the Hammerheads while showing all of his previous velocity and feel to spin, frequently embarrassing hitters with his wicked curveball.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his 2019 performance was his command, which is often an issue for pitchers coming off of surgery. While his walk rate was far from elite at 11.1%, he was largely around the zone and continued to show a starter’s profile overall, and the figure is workable, if a bit high, for a starter. He was given a brief cup of coffee in Double-A to end the year, capping a season that stabilized his stock as a top-10 prospect in a strong Miami system, and on the outer fringes of MLB top-100 consideration. His resume was still short and evaluators wanted to see him hold up over greater workloads, particularly with a major injury so close in the rear view, but his stuff profile remained sterling and he didn’t suffer from the post-surgery command woes that have plagued so many young arms historically.
In a normal 2020, Garrett would’ve opened the minor league season with Double-A Jacksonville with an opportunity to pitch his way into a midseason call-up, but his momentum was slowed by the cancellation of the minor league season. He was, however, carried in the 60-man player pool, giving him the opportunity to compete with other Marlins prospects throughout the season, and a rash of injuries in the big league pitching staff thrust him into the fire early when he was called upon to start half of a doubleheader on September 13.
It would be difficult to do anything but praise Garrett’s performance in the game, as he was able to navigate five innings while allowing just one run and striking out six, limiting the rival Phillies to just four baserunners. He liberally mixed in his curveball, racking up swinging strikes with the pitch, while also mixing in his impressive changeup a fair amount, showing a complete profile that can work in a big league rotation. All in all, his arsenal looked more than capable of frustrating a big league lineup, and his curve fit the bill of a legitimate out pitch at the highest level.
Braxton Garrett, Wicked Curveballs. pic.twitter.com/yISuw50Em2— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 13, 2020
The one point of concern from the outing was that Garrett averaged just 89.5 MPH on his fastball, which is a bit lower than the 91-92 he typically averaged historically as an amateur and minor league player. His handedness offers him a bit more wiggle room with his velocity, but if his long-term average is more in the range of 89-90, he begins to look like more of a back-end starter than a mid-rotation arm. His solid command and plus secondaries would keep his profile afloat, but it would put him closer to the Nick Neidert range of Marlins prospects than the Edward Cabrera tier.
It’s worth monitoring going forward, as despite his still young age Garrett doesn’t have much projection remaining in his frame, so unlocking more velocity would have to come by way of mechanical tweaks, but we’ve seen Garrett with a firmer fastball in the past, even since surgery, as seen above. For now there’s not yet cause for alarm.
In addition to looking the part, Garrett’s results were rock solid to boot. His one-run outing was enough to secure a key victory over Philadelphia in what will surely be a memorable day for the young lefty. He also endeared himself to fans with a priceless reaction to a Brian Anderson web gem at third base:
Even with the strong performance, Garrett was immediately optioned back to Jupiter following his start, and it’s unclear when he might get another big league opportunity, but his first impression in Miami was undoubtedly a strong one. There’s a good chance he’s called upon to help out during this weekend’s doubleheader-heavy series against the Nationals. The 2020 season has offered quite a window into the future of the Marlins rotation, with Sixto Sánchez setting the world on fire as a rookie, Trevor Rogers getting his feet wet, and even a brief look at Nick Neidert, and Garett’s cup of coffee showed that he too may have a long future in a starting role. His work in 2019 and 2020 should by now have quieted any concerns about the quality of his offspeed stuff or command returning after surgery. If he can coax a little more consistent juice out of his heater and polish his fine command, he could lock himself into a steady role with the team for good by early 2021. His range of outcomes at this point looks pretty narrow, with his absolute ceiling being that of a #3 starter, and his median outcome falling in the back of the rotation.
Will Braxton Garrett make the 2021 Marlins Opening Day rotation?
This poll is closed
No, injured/optioned to minors
No, traded before Opening Day