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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Braxton Garrett

Thrust into action early in 2020, the 7th overall pick in the 2016 draft is eyeing a long-term rotation role.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Braxton Garrett (60) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.  Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Braxton Garrett

Opening Day Age: 23 | Bats/Throws: L/L | Listed: 6’2”, 202 lbs.

Acquired: 2016 MLB Draft, 1st round (7th overall)

During the Marlins’ Cinderella 2020 run, they, like many other clubs affected by COVID-19, had to call to their farm for pitching reinforcements to make it over the finish line. Among them was a longtime farmhand and top organizational prospect, Braxton Garrett, who made two starts down the stretch for the squad. The performance was mixed, with his first appearance being much more successful than the second, but his ability to step in to big league action (during a playoff chase, no less) was impressive, and he showed some of the stuff that earned him his prospect pedigree years ago, generating some new excitement about his future potential.

Garrett was drafted as a potential workhorse lefty with outstanding feel to spin, and those are traits he continues to carry to this day. Selected out of the Oklahoma prep ranks five years ago, Garrett’s body is broad and powerful, and, assuming arm health and efficiency, should help him to throw a healthy complement of innings each year. Despite the broad build and filled out frame, however, he’s not exactly a fireballer. When selected, he was throwing mostly 90-92, though there was hope that some tinkering could help him unlock more velocity even though his body was only mildly projectable. What excited scouts most about Garrett at the time was his feel for offspeed stuff, specifically a power curve in the upper 70s to low 80s with late, punishing bite. The pitch is tough for hitters to differentiate from his fastball both due to its shape and his high release point, and remains his bread and butter to this day.

His overall profile as a draftee was that of a young pitcher with the potential to advance quickly towards a mid-rotation role. Unfortunately, his ascent was delayed by elbow surgery in 2017, which prevented him from really getting his pro career underway in earnest until 2019, when he was asked to jump directly to the Florida State League. Then 21 years old, Garrett made 20 starts for Jupiter, the High-A affiliate at the time, and largely made good on his hype, allowing just 92 hits in 105 innings while striking out 118 against 37 walks en route to a 3.34 ERA. Onlookers were impressed by how quickly his velocity (he was mostly 91-92 with Jupiter), movement and command returned after surgery, and he earned a late season promotion to Double-A for a brief run of starts. He struggled there, but it was nonetheless a big season for the lefty and re-established his stock with a bit of upward momentum entering 2020.

In a normal timeline, Garrett would’ve been slated to head out to Double-A to begin the following season, but the COVID-19 situation disrupted his timeline in a number of ways. He was denied a normal training schedule and the opportunity to acclimate to the upper minors, but was included in the Marlins expanded player pool for the season, allowing him to work against top players in the organization. The move also opened the door for a potential big league debut ahead of schedule, and that ended up coming to pass in September when the Marlins needed a starter for a game against the Phillies. He answered the call with aplomb, striking out Andrew McCutchen to start his career on his way to a win, allowing just one run in five innings while striking out six and giving us one of the best GIFs of the season.

While Garrett’s velocity was down from 2019 in the 88-90 range for most of the start, he was able to fool some seasoned big league hitters with his fastball/curveball combination, inducing several wild swings and misses and allowing his only run of the day on a long home run by Alec Bohm, who punished a heater that caught too much plate. With another start open on the calendar, the effort was enough to earn Garrett another turn, which didn’t end up going as well. Facing the Nationals, his control seemed to wander a bit in comparison to his debut, and he was unable to finish the third inning, getting knocked around for four earned runs before his exit. That would be the last we saw of him in 2020, and while the shaky performance against Washington probably wasn’t the way he wanted to go out, it was an encouraging, if brief, debut on the whole, and evidenced Garrett’s hardy makeup.

The 2021 campaign will hopefully offer something resembling a return to normalcy for Garrett and the Marlins, and a less uncertain offseason seems to have done him some good, as he’s been impressing observers both in-house and league-wide with his performance this spring. In his recent appearances, he has touched as high as 94 with his fastball while sitting comfortably in the 90s, a definite step up from his first taste of the bigs. His changeup has also looked improved, drawing praise from skipper Don Mattingly, and while he’s firmly behind Trevor Rogers in the competition for the #5 starter role, it’s clear that he is establishing himself in the Marlins’ long-term plans.

When camp concludes, the expectation is that Garrett will head out for some upper minors work while he awaits a big league opportunity, and he may well be the first man up whenever the big club finds itself in need of a starter. Though he is now 23 years old, Garrett only has one complete minor league season under his belt, and is still showing improvement with both his velocity and offspeed arsenal. He’s developing a broad repertoire and shows an understanding of how to tunnel it effectively. Those are reasons for optimism that he could be a legitimate mid-rotation arm in Miami behind potential frontliners Sixto Sánchez and Max Meyer.