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Next Great (Virtual) Red Sox Prospect: An April Ace

Oliver Marquez coasted through April and helped Portland get off to a great start.

Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego Studio
Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego Studio

It’s always a fool’s errand to try to make proclamations about the very beginning of the baseball season, but if Portland Sea Dogs right-hander Oliver Marquez can continue to dominate like he did in April, he’ll be on the fast track to the majors any day now.

That’s the type of lead sentence you would expect to read if the baseball season was actually underway right now … and if Marquez was a real player. For those who missed last week, Oliver T. Marquez is the next great (virtual) prospect for the Boston Red Sox. We’ll be following along with his (aka my) exploits in MLB The Show’s Road to the Show mode this season.

In last week’s episode, Marquez impressed during pre-draft scouting and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 15th round of the MLB Draft. Despite being selected so deep into the draft, Marquez earned himself a one-way ticket to Double-A Portland where he made the starting rotation to start the season. Maybe this game isn’t all that realistic after all.

Let’s sprint past that lack of realism and get to today’s episode where we’ll be reviewing Marquez’s first month with Portland.

Marquez made his first start of the season on April 8 against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. As a quick aside, Rumble Ponies is an excellent mascot name. I feel like that isn’t talked about enough.

Anyway, getting back to Marquez, he dominated from start to finish against Binghamton, making quite the impression with his first start. He consistently got ahead in the count and raced through six spectacular innings, allowing only one hit and zero runs before being taken out. He also struck out six batters while throwing 81 total pitches, 65 of which were strikes. Making matters even better, the Portland bullpen held up and delivered a 1-0 victory.

In the days after his first start, Marquez did some bullpen work and also started to form a bit of a bond with fellow starter Robert Ishii. Ishii is a 29-year old starter from Japan who features a fastball, slider, curveball and splitter. He had a 3.86 ERA and 3.21 FIP across his first two starts (9 ⅓ innings), which dropped to 2.74 and 2.52, respectively, by the end of the month.

When it was time for Marquez to pitch again, the Sea Dogs were sporting a 4-5 overall record as they finished a three-game series on the road against the Trenton Thunder (4-4). Portland put itself in solid positioning from the jump, going up 2-0 in the top of the first and Marquez took it from there, even though he had to dance out of a bases loaded jam in the fourth. Marquez pitched seven innings and allowed no runs while walking one and striking out eight. He threw 77 strikes and 92 pitches in total. The bullpen was a little less impressive behind him, but still finished off a 6-2 victory.

The between-start routine was once again filled with bullpen sessions and teammate bonding, this time with Russell Hu, a fellow starter who posted a 3.26 ERA and 3.10 FIP across 19 13 innings (three starts) in April.

Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego Studio
Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego Studio

On April 19, Marquez made his third start, this time leading the 8-6 Sea Dogs against the 6-7 Thunder. Marquez subdued the Trenton bats, scattering four hits across six shutout innings while striking out eight. He commanded the strike zone again, throwing 70 of his 87 pitches for strikes. That was more than enough for the Sea Dogs, who claimed an 8-1 victory.

Marquez worked on his changeup between starts, hoping to get a bit more break on the pitch. He also got to know Ryan Ratto, a fellow pitcher who has yet to make an impression. The 24-year-old left-hander from Mississippi has only pitched 23 innings after one month.

For Marquez’s fourth start of the season, I thought it might be time to make things a bit more challenging. I started this process using the veteran difficulty just to see how things went, but boosted it to All Star for the fourth start. The change didn’t make much of a difference, as Marquez roasted the Rumble Ponies to the tune of six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and six hits allowed. The strike zone was just as easy to find, and Marquez got 70 of his 93 pitches to go for strikes. The Sea Dogs also won another game and improved to 13-7 overall.

Marquez focused on conditioning between starts to improve his stamina, while a conversation with fellow pitcher Vaughn Flores was the social highlight. Flores has only thrown two innings through the first month.

For his final start of April, Marquez faced the 4-21 Hartford Yard Goats and somehow had his worst start of the season. Worst is a relative term in this case, as he allowed only two runs on five hits across 6 13 innings and still earned another win. In fact, Marquez didn’t give up any runs in the first six innings, but he allowed a single and double to start the seventh and after a run came in on fielder’s choice, he was taken out.

Despite that one-inning stumble, Marquez enjoyed an excellent first month in professional baseball. He is making a name for himself as a strike zone artist, with 36 strikeouts compared with only one walk, while his 0.57 ERA leads all Eastern League starters. He has also tallied a team-high 1.6 WAR and leads all Eastern League starting pitchers in All Star votes (116,000).

As for the Sea Dogs as a whole, they are 17-8 and lead the Eastern League Eastern Division by 2.5 games. Next week we’ll see how Marquez (and I) fair with a consistently higher difficulty in the month of May.