It should be noted at this point that Marklund wasn’t exactly a mystery as a prospect; coming out of St Thomas Aquinas HS in Vancouver in the Class of 2014, he had been scouted during his appearance in the 2013 Northwest Showcase. Among these notes, scouts mentioned that his fastball peaked at 85, and that he showed “short arm action and good arm speed”. They also noted that he had good control and command over all of his pitches. At that point in time, PG added him to the Top Prospects List for the region.
Another interesting observation was his “mound presence”. Marklund seems to have stood out for his “bulldog mentality”, long before he reached Bryan College or Lexington. However, his experiences at Bryan certainly made him even more fearless on the mound.
As the 2018 season at Bryan College came around, the baseball program of the small NAIA school in the heart of the Eastern Tennessee foothills was about to experience its greatest success, to that point. In that year, the young righty had primarily been used as a short reliever out of the ‘pen.
“We had a chance to win the regular season conference,” Marklund recalled. “We had to win our last game against Reinhardt (University). The week previously, I had just transitioned from closer to starter, because we needed more depth in the rotation if we wanted to make a push for not only the conference tournaments, but also the opening-round regionals.”
“If we won, we’d win the regular season. That’s something our school had never done, before.”
The Bryan Lions, coming into the series versus Reinhardt tied in the conference standings at 20-6, had to take the series in order to win the conference. After winning the first game in the series, then dropping the first game of a doubleheader the next day, Marklund was tabbed to start against the Eagles. In addition to the down-to-the-wire circumstances, this was also Senior Weekend for the Lions.
Marklund made only four starts out of 24 appearances in 2018, two of which were complete games. April 28th would be one of them, his first of the season, as he went the full seven innings (a complete game, in the second game of the doubleheader), allowing three earned runs on five hits (in addition to two unearned), walking four and striking out six in the 11-5 conference-clinching win.
“There are times when, during a game or in the third or fourth inning I’ve pitched, I’m usually done. Usually one or two, in saves. But it was the third or fourth, that day, and the coach kept asking me how I was doing. I had given up some runs, at that point.”
“So I told him ‘I’m good.’ The sixth came and he couldn’t really take me off that mound, where I wanted to be. So he said ‘OK, if you want to be out there, that’s fine. Let’s go.’”
After finishing the season with a 6-1 record overall, a 2.38 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, and 69 strikeouts (27.8% strikeout percentage), Marklund was named to the All-AAC 1st Team, as well as the All-Academic Team.
Fast-forward to Game Four, 2019 South Atlantic League Championship vs. the Hickory Crawdads.
“That’s kind of how I felt against Hickory. I knew it was probably the last game of the year for me, and I was probably not pitching again the next day if there was a Game Five after already going two or three. And I knew that I had a full off-season, and a couple of months until Premier-12 and Team Canada.”
“So every time I came off the mound, the coach was asking me how I was doing. I’m like, ‘Yeah, not coming out now.’ It was kind of cool to have that same kind of feeling that I had experienced previously at (Bryan). I hadn’t started in a long time. Not that this was a start against Hickory, but I was extended for the first time in a while. So I just had the mentality that I had to focus on making each pitch, getting each out, not getting ahead of myself.”
“I knew I just had to make one pitch at a time, and the rest would take care of itself.”
While Brandon was pitching one of the best games of his life in Kentucky (see his K of Rangers 2019 first-round pick Josh Jung here), his family was more than 2,200 miles away (over 3,000 kilometers, in deference to our Canadian readers), watching the game on MiLB.TV. His mother, Cathy, a 25-year employee of Hudson Bay Company; and his sister, Brooke (currently, a student pursuing a degree as a legal assistant), followed along with every pitch. Imagining what must be going through the minds of a player’s parents during such a moment is a difficult thing to do; excitement, frustration, anxiety, joy. All these may be felt, in turns, or perhaps all at once.
His father, Joe, an operations supervisor for Viterra, the largest grain-supplying company in Canada, had a front-row seat to Brandon’s development as a young player. Indeed, as may be expected, he took a direct role in it.
“I coached Brandon most of the time, but once he turned sixteen, seventeen years old, it was time to move on,” Joe Marklund remembered. “So I come at it from a little different perspective, because I look at it not as a dad, but as a coach.”
Joe had high praise for Brooks McNiven, pitching coach of the North Shore Twins, who took over Brandon’s coaching and development at that point. Twice drafted, first in 1999 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 46th round, then in 2003 by the San Francisco Giants in the 4th round, McNiven was a seven-year veteran of the minor-league ranks. He was also a member of the Canadian National Team in 2007, 2008, and 2009, winning a bronze medal in ’09 in the World Cup, in addition to joining the team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Watching Brandon play, now solely as his father and not his coach, Joe remarked, “My wife and I actually can’t sit in the same room while we watch his games, which is quite interesting.”
“But I was always of the perspective that all he needed was that one chance. You know, when he was growing up, I felt that once he got that one chance, once that right person saw him, they were going to say ‘this guy needs an opportunity.’”
“And neither myself, nor any of his other coaches, were ever easy on him. So I think that helps him a lot to know that no situation’s too big.”
Noting the path that Brandon took to reach affiliated professional baseball in the U.S., Joe continued, “It just came the long way around. He didn’t go through the draft, so he had to buckle down and just get it done. So me, personally, I always felt he was going to get that shot. Knowing Brandon, he would go through all the tough work and the extensive training and just get the job done, and finally get that opportunity. Now he just has to keep on going after it.”
“He works hard, every day, and so we’re pretty proud of him.”
Joe and his wife, Cathy, made the trip this year to Surprise, Arizona, and Royals spring training. “We spoke to one of the Royals’ scouts who was there. For Brandon’s being a non-drafted free agent, the way he sounded when we spoke to him, he made us feel like (Brandon) was a first-rounder, to him. He said to us, ‘You know, I take care of them. I don’t care where (the players) come from. They’re one of ours, now. If there’s anything you need, you just let me know.’”
“It was the same type of feeling that we had at Bryan that we had with Kansas City.”
Robin Cope, president and CEO of Cope Sports Management, Inc., and Brandon’s agent, believed that Kansas City not only showed the most definite interest in his client, but also took a more personable approach to its players. When Brandon asked his father what he thought about whether he should sign with the Royals, Joe didn’t hesitate: he was 100% on board.
Joe also gives considerable credit to personal trainer Anthony Finley, who has worked with Brandon since he was twelve years old. “They’ve done an outstanding job with him, he and his staff. And that’s something that you don’t really see with young kids, right now, is that they don’t seem to train a lot. So by the time he was in Grade 10, you could see he had proper technique, proper mechanics, and you could be comfortable that he was going to take care of himself.”
Being able to unwind away from the field is just as important. Marklund, a history major at Bryan, is especially interested in military history. “I love to learn about the Russian Revolution, for example. World War II is another favorite subject. One of my favorite books is The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, which talks about how World War I built up in the first month or two of the war. German history is also interesting, to me. I think the cool part of learning about history is that there are a lot of valuable lessons to learn from historical events, things that can be applied to understanding today’s events.”
“I also think it’s a good way to remember the fallen, who have fought for our freedoms and our rights. So even though I can’t personally thank a veteran who has passed away, I think it’s important to read about the history of these men and women, and remembering them is another way to honor them.”
“Oh, I also tried many times to teach myself a language on Duolingo, and that’s way too tough,” Marklund laughed. “We learned French up until a certain grade, then it was never a main focus, here. I took it again in 12th grade, and my teacher was a Mrs. Frith. She was really very tough, but she was also very fair and very welcoming, very helpful for someone like me who wasn’t very good with the language. And because or her, I ended up taking it while in college, and it became one of my favorite classes, which is sort of interesting when I think of it, now.”
Between his dominance on the field, and his ability to unwind off of it, things certainly seemed to click for Marklund. One unbelievable season in Lexington (0.46 ERA in 39 1/3 IP, 23 HA, 7 R, 2 ER, 1 HRA, 19 BB, 44 K) and a championship ring later, his services were once again requested.
“It was just before we were getting onto the bus that I got a text message from Greg Hamilton, who is the director of national teams for Canada. He asked if I would contact him to talk about the season I had just finished, and if I might be interested in pitching for Team Canada in the Premier-12 Tournament that was coming up in South Korea.”
“The Royals were happy to allow me to do it, which I thought was very commendable of them, especially it being the end of the year. It would require, of course, that I keep throwing past the end of the season, so it would be a different off-season than most of my teammates. But I was super-grateful for them letting me have the chance to do that.”
And just like that, Marklund had an opportunity to check off yet one more box on his to-do list: playing baseball for his native country.
“It’s a great group of guys. I had met Scott Richmond down in Auckland, previously. So I got to get to know him. That was kind of my first experience with anyone from the national team, being able to talk to Scott and getting to know him.”
“In this past year, I’ve been blessed to be able to do both play for my first professional baseball team, and pitch for my country. So I thought that was just unreal. And they’re all great guys, really welcoming.”
“There were a couple of other guys who were with the team for the first time. But Scott Mathieson was one of the players who was really very welcoming, and helped us out. It was almost as if I had played for the team for several years, already. And just the wealth of experience from guys who played in the big leagues, and Mathieson, who also played in Japan…all that experience, among the players on that roster. It was unreal to be a part of it.”
Appearing against Team Australia, Marklund’s performance was shaky (1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K, strike pct. 50%), though he had a full season behind him and it could be assumed that he was running out of gas. He, himself, denies this. The easier explanation: not every appearance is going to be a lights-out performance.
Today, Brandon has had a little time to return home, shake off the jet lag suffered when one flies across the Pacific (ed. note: it’s a beast), and let it all sink in, he’s still kept a level head. He knows what he’s accomplished, but he also knows that this is only the beginning; that he must continue to push ahead, to prove that he belongs in the pro ranks. The tools are already there, as is the determination.
“Heading into the 2020 season, I just want to do everything that I did for 2019. I want to stay consistent with my pitching, my preparation. I’m just trying to be myself, both as a person and as a pitcher. Not trying to do too much, not letting the situation get too big or too small, but just attack every day like it’s the last game I’m ever going to pitch. That’s the same mentality I had, all year. That’s my approach. So I wouldn’t necessarily change anything, but just keep doing more of what I’ve been doing.”
“And it’s just knowing now that I am good enough, really, to face any hitter,” he continued, echoing the philosophy of virtually every successful closer who came before him. “I’m pretty confident in myself, enough so that I’m not going to change it for any hitter. I’m going to attack him like I know how. Just being through the experiences I’ve had over the past year, it’s made me realize that I’ve earned where I’m at.”
“Yeah, I think next year is going to be a really exciting year.”