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Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 17, Stephen Marek

17. Stephen Marek, RHP
B/T: L/R 2011 Age: 28 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 230
2010: (AA)
11 G, 0.00 ERA, BB, 18 K, 0 HR
(AAA) 49 G, 50.1 IP, 1.43 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 10 K/9, 0.7 HR/9

The fact that Stephen Marek will be 28 this year and he is still not in the Majors seems mind-boggling when looking at his stuff and ability. Marek was drafted in the 40th round in 2004 by the Angels out of San Jacinto College in Texas, the same as number 20 on my list, Benino Pruneda. Marek was shipped to the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal.

Marek pitched pretty well as a starter, but the Angels sent him to the bullpen in 2008. That was also the year he made the jump to AA, and it went well, as he saw a spike in strikeouts to 10 K/9 in 60.2 innings, and a 3.56 ERA. The next season was a disaster, as he posted a combined 6.00 ERA between AA and AAA in 45 innings, including rates of 7.2 BB/9 to 7 K/9. The shortage of innings and performance most assuredly had to do with injuries and durability. It was a major blow to Marek's development, as well, because a great season could have put him in Atlanta in 2010.

Marek returned as a different pitcher in 2010, recording a combined 1.14 ERA between AA and AAA, including a 1.43 mark in 50.1 innings at AAA. He also saw his strikeout numbers increase to 10.5 K/9 and walks went down to 2.8 BB/9. That season proved Marek's K/9 rate of 10 as a reliever was legit, and he was able to mow down AAA batters like everybody thought he could.

Marek has a mid-90s fastball and great curveball, both profiling as late-innings worthy. It also keeps the ball in the park, as his 0.7 HR/9 in 2010 shows. Any doubt as to whether his stuff can play in the upper levels disappeared with his tremendous 2010 season, and it backed up his 2008 numbers when he made the transition. Marek will be 27 years old during the 2011 season, and there is nothing left for him in the Minors. He either makes it in the next year or two and has a shot at a late-innings role, or he is destined to fill the back of a bullpen.

The fact that the Braves spent actual money on Scott Proctor when Marek is sitting in the system completely blows my mind. I feel Proctor won't last half the season, in which case Marek should get his shot, but it should be coming out of Spring Training. Either way, expect Marek to be the first called up to fill a spot in the bullpen this season.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) MLB Debut 2) K/BB 3) Durability
Destination in 2011: Half at AAA, Half at MLB
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: Late Innings Reliever
My Prediction: Middle Relief

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.