PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Not even a year ago, Jorge Marban was considering his non-baseball options.
He was still only 25, but after bouncing from the Texas Rangers farm system to the independent Frontier League, he had to be realistic about his career.
The righthander was pitching for the Florence (Ky.) Freedom, striking out nearly 1.5 batters an inning but walking at least one every frame as well. He had a 4-6 record and 4.27 ERA, four years after signing with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent.
“I was even contemplating retiring, finishing school and trying to find a real job,” Marban said.
If he had to step away from baseball, he figured he could finish up the criminal justice degree he started at Florida International University. He wanted to be a police officer or work for the FBI.
“That’s the one thing I always wanted to do,” Marban said. “So that was probably going to be the plan.”
But he still wanted to know where baseball might take him, even if it was to the other side of the world.
He had heard about the Australian Baseball League, and started asking some of his coaches in Florence if they knew how to make inroads.
But last September, the Freedom traded Marban to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. His new pitching coach had Marban reach out to Steve Fish, the manager for the ABL’s Perth Heat who’s also a part-time scout for the Red Sox.
Beyond baseball, Marban embraced the experience of being in a country where down is literally up.
“It was different, being from here and growing up in the US,” said Marban, a Miami native. “It was a different way of life. Just basic things like driving on the opposite side of the car, opposite side of the road.
“It’s different, but it was a good time. And I was pretty lucky to experience a different country like that and everything worked out for me.”
In 24 games with the Heat, Marban went 4-1 with a 2.12 ERA, with 44 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Fish saw all he needed to see.
“He saw me pitch for about a month and a half and [the Sox] offered me a contract,” Marban said.
At that moment, Marban went from being unsure if he had a future in baseball to securing one. He started this season with Single A Salem and has excelled at every stop. In 36 games between Salem, Double A Portland, and his current home in Triple A Pawtucket, Marban has gone 6-2 with a 1.41 ERA, with 49 strikeouts in 57⅓ innings.
When the opportunities came, Marban didn’t doubt his abilities and didn’t get carried away with expectations.
“I always thought I could pitch,” he said, “I’d always try to compete at any level I was at, but I didn’t think it was going to be this quick, all in one year. It’s been a surprise for me and I’ve just been taking it one step at a time. And whatever opportunity comes, just go with it.”
PawSox manager Kevin Boles has taken notice of Marban’s fastball.
“We’ve seen some late swings on it, looks like there’s some deception in there and he’s got a feel for a mix,” Boles said. “He goes right after hitters.”
Boles also noticed the way Marban fit seamlessly into the clubhouse.
“He’s very mature. He’s got a quiet presence about him,” Boles said. “Guys like him in the clubhouse. But he just goes about his business. He’s kind of in the background a little bit. He’s making an impression on the mound is what’s important.”
When Marban runs into trouble — he’s walked 33 this season — he doesn’t panic. He finds a way to get out of jams.
“Just not trying to do too much and pitching to my strengths,” Marban said. “Yeah, the walks are a little high and I don’t like that, but I’ve been able to pitch out of some good jams and just been able to make pitches when I need them. That’s the big part.”
Now, Marban can see his future in baseball.
“It’s a little more exciting knowing that there’s something ahead,” he said. “You work hard and just try to get to that next level. Just keep working as hard as I can and doing whatever I can to make it to that next level. That’s an exciting thing. Not that it’s a for-sure thing, but there’s more certainty into my future playing baseball rather than what it was before and it’s just an exciting thing.”
Building up Hill
The 6⅓ shutout innings that Rich Hill threw for the PawSox against Lehigh Valley on Aug. 15 felt like a breakthrough.
It was the kind of start that injected confidence into the 35-year-old lefthander, who has come back from Tommy John surgery in 2010 as a member of the Sox. He has pitched for three other major league teams the last three years, returning to the Sox as a free agent Aug. 14.
A week after that start, he faced the IronPigs again and held them to two runs on five hits in seven innings.
The starts have given Hill something on which to keep building.
“I feel great,” Hill said. “That’s really the main takeaway for me. Health-wise, I couldn’t ask for more. Just one pitch at a time. It’s so cliché. It’s staying in the moment as much as you can and that’s really the most necessary thing to do when you’re pitching or playing this game.
“That’s basically how I’ve been approaching everything. Expectations aren’t anything but to throw the best pitch I can at that moment and that’s it.