When the Miami Marlins selected Zach McCambley with their third-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, the goal was to turn him into a big league starter. Barely a year after signing, the right-hander was already part of the AA Pensacola rotation. That goal appeared to be well within reach.
However, injuries and uneven results followed. McCambley posted a 5.51 ERA while working as a starter with Pensacola from 2021-22. That’s when Marlins pitching coordinator Scott Aldred approached him about transitioning to become a reliever.
“(Aldred) showed me numbers at the end of the year, explaining that the first two times through the lineup were really good and then the third time was obviously not, so that was the reason behind moving into the ‘pen,” said McCambley on a media call earlier this week.
Midway through the 2023 season, McCambley made his return to AA-Pensacola after recovering from a UCL sprain. Working as a reliever full time, he found a lot more success: 3.76 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 10.33 K/9, 5.17 BB/9 in 38.1 IP.
That has continued to be the case during the Arizona Fall League. McCambley has the best AFL numbers of any Marlins pitcher, posting a 3.38 ERA, 13.5 K/9 and 5.6 BB/9 in 8.0 IP.
“I’m really enjoying myself out here,” said McCambley. “It’s a really cool experience to be around all this good talent, to kind of get a fresh set of eyes on you, having different coordinators from all different teams being your coaches. Just learning from all the prospects out here, seeing how they go about their business every day.”
McCambley admits he was initially “standoffish” about going to the ‘pen. He wanted to continue to develop his changeup rather than specialize as a two-pitch fastball/breaking ball guy. The bright side to the transition was he’d have an opportunity to reach the big leagues faster as a reliever.
“Obviously there are differences between the two,” said McCambley. “As a starter, you have all this time before the game to get your body and mind right. Coming out of the ‘pen is a little different. You kind of gotta have your A-plus stuff right away. There’s no time to try and get in a groove out there.”
The AFL ends next week, but McCambley will be hard at work beyond that to improve in one particular area entering the 2024 season.
“I have more velocity in the tank,” said McCambley. “Personally, I know I have more velocity. It’s just about getting in front of the right people and getting the proper training done in the offseason. I know going into this offseason is huge for me.”
His fastball velo typically sat around 92-93 mph this season.
Assuming he doesn’t get picked by another team in December’s Rule 5 Draft, McCambley will likely earn a non-roster invite to Marlins spring training.
Photo courtesy of Pensacola Blue Wahoos