Justin Marks from the 2011 season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks. (Photo: Jen Nevius)

Pitcher Justin Marks is Standing Out in the AFL

While much of the offseason will be spent analyzing who the Royals should sign or trade for to add talent to Kansas City’s rotation, the question of depth should be considered as well. Mike Montgomery struggled in each of the past two seasons. Chris Dwyer did as well. John Lamb will be coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Those are some of the key players who the Royals thought would be competing for rotation spots coming into spring training, but so far, none of them are any closer than they were two years ago. If the Royals are going to develop any depth that’s close to the big leagues, it’s going to have to come from another name.

That’s what makes Justin Marks‘s performance in the Arizona Fall League intriguing. In six games, he’s 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA in 20.1 innings. Over that stretch, he’s struck out 19 and walked just five.

He doesn’t profile as a key prospect, but this is what happens – players you don’t expect to turn into much can develop. Something clicks, they get in a groove and they build on it. In the case of Marks, he’s had some success in the minors, especially since joining the Royals organization. Two winters ago, he came over as part of the David DeJesus trade, mostly as an add-on with Vin Mazzaro. While with Oakland, he had a 5.07 ERA in 258.2 innings. Once he got to Kansas City, he reduced that by about a run (4.18 in 236.2 innings). In 2011, he spent all season in High A Wilmington but advanced to Double A in 2012 and made one start in Triple A.

As a lefty, he may get a longer than usual look, and he’s always had a good strikeout rate in the minors, too. To look at his numbers, his walkrate could be better, but as 2012 progressed he saw improvement in that area month by month. If he can continue that trend (which he has so far in the AFL), he could be a dark horse pitcher.

Now, that doesn’t mean that he should rocket up prospect lists. He’s probably never going to be anything more than a #5 starter, and more likely to be a spot starter type. His slider has developed into a good pitch, so he could work some innings that maximize his appearances against left-handed batters.

Marks will be 25 years old once pitchers and catchers report, so he’s probably not going to see much more time in Double A. Look for him to start out in Triple A and be a regular starter there and, if it becomes necessary, he could be a call up in the case of injury issues. The best takeaway is that it’s good to see a pitcher who’s relatively close to the majors who’s having some success and could be an emergency option.

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