Prospect Retro Redux: Shaun Marcum
Shaun Marcum was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2003, a third round pick out of Southwest Missouri State University. He was a shortstop/closer in college, a testimony to his athleticism. Not a huge guy at 6-0, 180, he had an 88-91 fastball and a good slider. The Jays used him in relief initially and he posted a 1.32 ERA with a 47/7 K/BB in 34 innings in the New York-Penn League. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2004 book, noting that his grade would go higher if he continued to perform well at higher levels.
The Jays converted Marcum to the rotation in 2004. He went 7-3, 3.19 with an 83/16 K/BB in 79 innings in the Sally League, then 3-2, 3.12 with a 72/4 K/BB in 69 innings in the Florida State League. I moved his grade up to B-, noting that some scouts were concerned that his command might actually be "too good" and that he'd prove excessively hittable at higher levels. He was still at 88-92 but was showing a better changeup and curveball to go with the slider.
Marcum began 2005 in Double-A, going 7-1, 2.53 with a 40/10 K/BB in 53 innings. Promoted to Triple-A, he struggled with a 4.95 ERA. HIs K/BB was good at 90/18, but he gave up 112 hits and 17 homers in 104 innings for Syracuse. He pitched eight scoreless innings out of the major league bullpen. I gave him a Grade C+, writing that relief might be his best role. As a starter, I saw him as a possible strike-throwing inning-eater, but didn't expect him to dominate.
Marcum saw 78 innings of swingman use for Toronto in 2006, then made 25 starts and 13 relief appearances last year. In 245 major league innings, he has a 191/91 K/BB, 242 hits allowed, and a 4.29 ERA. He was quite effective last year. What should we expect for the future?
PECOTA's comps are interesting: Jose Acevedo, Frank Castillo, Eric Gagne, Adam Eaton, Art Mahaffey, Doug Drabek, Mike Gardiner, Gil Meche, Jim McAndrew, and Barry Lersch are the top ten. Gagne doesn't make much sense; Marcum doesn't have that kind of stuff. A Drabek-esque ceiling I can see, if Marcum remains healthy and can improve his command a bit more. That would be his ceiling.
One thing that stands out for Marcum is his athleticism as a former college shortstop. Athleticism is something that's often underrated when discussing pitchers, but it's a critical factor in development. Marcum may be "undersized" classically as a shorter right-hander, but his athletic ability makes that a lot less important, in my view, and should help him stay healthy and reach his ultimate peak. At this point, I'm pretty optimistic about him. He doesn't have the pure physical upside of Dustin McGowan, but he's got a decent chance to be a much better pitcher than a lot of guys drafted ahead of him in '03.
Drabek's best year was 1990 at age 27, when he won 22 games with a +131 ERA+. Marcum's corresponding season would be 2009. Could Marcum make a run at such a season next year? Keep that in the back of your mind.
How did the Drabek parallel pan out?
Marcum had a good year in 2008, going 9-7, 3.39 with a 123/50 K/BB in 151 innings, 126 hits allowed, but was limited to 25 starts by an elbow injury. He missed all of 2009 rehabbing from Tommy John, but is back healthy and effective this year, 4-1, 2.82 in 10 starts so far, 53/15 K/BB in 67 innings, 52 hits allowed, 145 ERA+.
Marcum is now 28-18, 3.79, 367/156 K/BB in 464 innings, 420 hits, 115 ERA+, 4.59 FIP in his career. His ERAs are consistently better than his FIP or xFIP and have been every year of his career.
If Marcum keeps the momentum going this year and continues to pitch well, the parallel with Drabek holds nicely, just a year behind schedule due to the surgery. Drabek was a very good pitcher but fell apart at age 32. Perhaps Marcum's repaired elbow will enable him to last a bit longer.