Just from Rounds 2 to 4 of the 2014 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays selected three pitchers out of high school. This year, however, it wasn’t until the 22nd round that the Rays even selected one such arm. Luckily for us, the player they picked was worth the wait. Justin Marsden is a 6’3″, 175 right-hander out of Mountainview High School in the state of Washington who brings to the table projectability, a ridiculous curveball, and quite a personality as well.
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As you have probably noticed, my draft coverage has gone a lot slower than other outlets like DRaysBay–I chose to prioritize depth of information about every player over speed. In any event, they did a great job over there, and their analysis of Marsden was especially good. As Danny Russell of DRB detailed, the spring rate on Marsden’s curveball was the best anyone had seen in four years of Trackman data. The offering certainly has plus potential, and it could be eventually be among the best breaking balls in the system. In addition, Russell discussed Marsden’s “interesting” demeanor, including how he sits angrily by himself in the dugout in between innings.
There is a lot more to add about Justin Marsden, however, and let’s get into that now. Aside from his curveball, Marsden throws a fastball and a nascent changeup. The fastball has hit as high as 94 MPH, especially early in games, but it usually ends up in more of the 88 to 90 MPH range. He will hope to fill out his lanky frame and get to the mid-90’s more often. Marsden does a solid job getting a downward plane on his fastball, and he also gets good run on it at times. There is reason to believe that it can be a second excellent pitch for him in pro ball.
Marsden is almost surely going to sign with the Rays. Piecing together reports from Baseball America and The News Tribune, Marsden failed to get into Washington State academically (he’s now committed to Central Arizona Community College), and was going to sign if he was drafted in the top 10 rounds. Obviously he was not, but there is reason to believe that he would take an eighth round slot bonus of around $175,000 if not a little less than that. Marsden is talented enough that the Rays will find the money to sign him even as they figure out how to agree to terms with Chris Betts.
The bigger question is why Marsden slipped so far, but the answer is likely his personality and simply who he is. There is no issue with a pitcher being quirky–he can sit alone in the dugout if he pitches well–but his problems with focus and work ethic are bigger deals. Marsden deals with ADHD, and he has struggled with it pretty severely in school. I can’t speak to Marsden’s intelligence, but it was a red flag that his grades weren’t good enough for Washington State. Teams have to wonder how his flaws will affect his development in pro ball.
So much of Marsden’s future is going to built around him turning his projectability into additional velocity on his fastball. He will need to put in hours and hours of time in the weight room–does he have the patience for that? What about his changeup, which will also need a lot of refinement? Even if Marsden is talented, teams may have been scared that his issues with focus would overshadow his abilities. The risk with any high school pitcher is very high, and for Justin Marsden, it may be even higher.
On the other side, maybe teams don’t understand Marsden and ADHD well enough. As we know from our friends and family with ADHD, Marsden’s condition is treatable, and with continued treatment from his doctor, he could continue to improve as he matures. Coaches and teammates will need to be patient with him and tolerate his eccentricity, but the Rays have a track record of dealing with players who had problems far worse than his. In addition, his fellow minor leaguers should be perfectly supportive once they watch him pitch, see his talent, and understand that he cares.
Justin Marsden was drafted in the 22nd round for a reason, but the Tampa Bay Rays love his potential and are ready to put in the time and effort to help him harness it. So many people have said already that Marsden is one of the most exciting picks in this year’s Rays draft, and after a more thorough analysis, I can only agree. It will be exciting to watch Marsden progress as a pitching prospect in the system in the next few years.
Click this link to read our other 2015 Tampa Bay Rays MLB Draft profiles.