There are typically a handful of guys I root for during Spring Training for no particular reason. Maybe it’s because I think the player’s name is amusing, or maybe he’s spent years grinding in the minors with the hopes he cracks a Major League roster out of camp (Ryan Cordell).
Whatever the case may be, it’s typically a back-handed habit. Seldom do I take it personally when a non-roster invite I'm rooting for is among the first who is out-righted to Charlotte because in the end, that’s where I knew he’d land regardless.
This spring is a little different. My rooting interest is at its peak related to an underdog named Evan Marshall.
Marshall is lucky to be alive, let alone able to pitch at an elite level. While on the mound in an August 4th contest for the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Marshall was struck in the head with a 105 mile-per-hour line drive.
The liner fractured his skull and required emergency surgery to alleviate swelling and bleeding in the brain. 18 staples and three weeks' worth of rehab later, Marshall greeted his Diamondbacks teammates at Chase Field as the 2015 season neared its conclusion. He eventually worked his way back on a Major League mound the next year, totaling 15.1 innings of relief for Arizona in 2016. The man battled back.
That’s plenty reason for me to be a fan of his. Oh, and the right-hander can pump a mid-90's fastball out of the pen. In a baseball sense, that’s considered valuable.
I’m a sucker for miracle stories; especially those that involve an individual conquering a life or death situation. For that reason, I’ll always be a fan of Danny Farquhar.
Still able to pitch, Marshall falls into the miracle category and I’m paying very close attention to his performance this spring. The 2011 4th round pick of the Diamondbacks received a non-roster invite to Big-League camp and is competing with roughly eight fellow relief pitchers for four realistically available spots in the bullpen, should the Sox decide to keep 13 arms.
Since 2011, Marshall is on his fourth organization and has totaled a 3.63 ERA in 270.1 innings across eight Minor League seasons. In 101 Major League appearances, the right-hander owns a 5.15 ERA in 92.2 innings.
His rookie season still proves to be the best of Marshall’s career. He struck out 54 over 49.1 innings to go along with an impressive 2.74 ERA in 2014 with the Diamondbacks.
Last season, Marshall appeared in 10 games with the Cleveland Indians and 20 with the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers. His 7.71 ERA in Cleveland warranted a demotion, but Marshall responded with a 1.13 ERA in 24 Triple-A innings.
He also dealt with an elbow injury that appeared in June and lingered throughout his 2018 campaign. The White Sox sent him to pitch in the Mexican Pacific League this winter and the righty converted five-of-six save chances in nine total innings pitched.
Marshall is a sinker ball pitcher who relies heavily on a mid-90’s two-seam fastball. His four-seam has evident cut that plays well in combination with an 87 mile-per-hour circle changeup and hard curveball.
Command issues plagued Marshall early in his career. From 2011 to 2015, the reliever would average around one walk per three innings. In 2016, Marshall’s walks-per-nine innings metric got into dangerous territory, averaging roughly 4.5 BB/9.
It appears he’s figured it out. In 88.1 total innings since 2017, Marshall has issued just 24 walks (2.5 BB/9) while striking out 79.
Throwing strikes is a major step toward pitching on the southside. However, sustained success will come from strikes that miss bats.
Marshall gives up contact. A lot of contact. His career 1.525 WHIP is dampened by early walk woes, but 467 hits allowed over 398.2 innings is a nasty blemish on a relief pitcher’s portfolio. In the Majors, Marshall has allowed 30 more hits than innings pitched.
A product of the struggles relates to his pitching repertoire. He throws a lot of hard stuff with not a lot of discrepancy in velocity. Marshall reminds me a lot of Dylan Covey.
Will Evan Marshall make the White Sox Opening Day roster? Probably not. There seems to be too many hurdles for him to jump at this point of Spring Training for a bump to the 25-man. He still needs to make the active roster, first and foremost.
Marshall has two full weeks to put it all out in front of Rick Renteria and White Sox evaluators. With eight seasons of professional experience along with the ever-revolving door that is a Major League bullpen, Marshall will likely get an opportunity to pitch at Guaranteed Rate Field at some point this season.
The chance to earn an Opening Day nod may be slim, but I won’t stop rooting for the right-hander who continues to add chapters to his improbable tale. Marshall is exactly the kind of player that makes Spring Training fun.
For an added perspective of Evan Marshall's injury and pathway back to the Major Leagues, the above video provides excellent insight on what he went through.