Prospect Retro: Carlos Marmol
By reader request, here is a look at the development career path of Chicago Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs signed Marmol as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. He was originally a catcher/outfielder and not a bad hitter, hitting .314 in the Dominican Summer League in 2000 and .295 in 40 games for the Arizona League Cubs in 2001. He also had some speed and athletic ability, and a very strong throwing arm, but his power was unimpressive and he had issues with plate discipline. His career really wasn't going anywhere, so in 2003 the Cubs converted him to mound work to take advantage of his strong arm. He responded with a 4.19 ERA and a 74/37 K/BB in 62 innings in the Arizona League, showing good stuff (note the strikeouts) but understandable problems with command and polish. I did not put him in the 2004 book but would have given him a Grade C if I had.
Moved up to Lansing in the Midwest League for 2004, he went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA and a 154/53 K/BB in 155 innings, allowing 131 hits. I got to see him pitch once that year and he looked pretty sharp, showing a 92-94 MPH fastball and a pretty solid slider. The changeup needed work but it wasn't bad considering his lack of experience, and overall I was quite impressed with him. All of his component ratios were substantially better than league averages, and I gave him a Grade B- in my 2005 book.
Marmol began 2005 with High-A Daytona in the Florida State League, making 13 starts with a 2.99 ERA and a 71/37 K/BB in 72 innings. Promoted to Double-A at mid-season, he remained effective with a 3.65 ERA and a 70/40 K/BB in 81 innings. His walk rate went up, but overall he adapted well, continuing to show a 92-94 MPH fastball while making further strides with the breaking ball and changeup. I wrote "Marmol needs another year in the high minors to work on his breaking ball and improve his control, but I think he has significant potential as a sleeper, if he's handled properly." He got another Grade B-.
Returning to West Tennessee for 2006, Marmol posted a 2.33 ERA with a 67/25 K/BB in 58 starts, allowing just 42 hits. Although he had no Triple-A experience, the Cubs needed an arm and promoted him to the major leagues in June. This was a definite case of rushing: he posted a 6.08 ERA and a 59/59 K/BB in 77 innings, making 13 starts and six relief appearances. His stuff was obvious but his command wasn't nearly good enough for major league competition at that point.
Marmol split '07 between Chicago and Iowa, doing decently as a starter in Triple-A (3.95 ERA, 48/12 K/BB in 41 innings) but thriving after moving up to the majors and finding his niche in relief, posting a 1.43 ERA with a 96/35 K/BB in 69 innings. Keys to his improvement included better command and a sharper slider. He was excellent again in '08 (2.68 ERA, 114/41 K/BB in 87 innings), but had significant command problems in '09, walking 65 in 74 innings. He's made 19 appearances so far in '10, with a 1.31 ERA and an amazing 40 strikeouts in 21 innings and just 12 hits allowed, picking up seven saves.
As I write this, Marmol has a career 3.29 ERA in the majors, with a 402/212 K/BB in 328 innings and allowing just 207 hits. His K/IP and H/IP marks are exceptional, and when his command is working he is a superb reliever. He throws slightly harder now in the bullpen than he did in the minors as a starter, 93-96 MPH consistently, with movement. He uses a frequent hard slider and a rare softer curve, but has junked the changeup he used previously. It is hard to argue with his results; it is all just a matter of command for him.
The Cubs could have screwed him up with the premature promotion in 2006, but he adapted and it didn't end up hurting him. Marmol is an example of a pitching conversion that worked.