High School Sports

Quirks have shaped Justin Marsden into an MLB-draft hopeful pitcher for Auburn Mountainview

Justin Marsden is steaming with anger as he heads to his seat in the corner of the dugout. He entertains the coaches trying to calm him down, but he’s not really listening. This is how he wants it.

He calls it his “Warrior Zone.”

“Everybody backs off,” the Auburn Mountainview High School senior said. “I go down to the end of the dugout and I just sit there … nobody comes over and tries to mess with me. It’s my zone. And people know — don’t get me out of it.”

He said it’s when his curveball becomes most unhittable, when his fastball pumps up a few miles per hour into the mid-90s and when he works the fastest.

“Good luck against him when he gets into that zone,” said Auburn Mountainview left fielder Mason Cerrillo. “He likes to work fast when he gets mad, and he just doesn’t care at all.”

As if he wasn’t tough enough.

Marsden said he’s heard he could be taken in the top three rounds of the major league draft starting June 8. He said he’d be happy to go in the top 10 rounds, though he has also committed to Central Arizona Community College.

Auburn Mountainview coach Glen Walker said Marsden has received the most interest from scouts of the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays.

“I’ve heard he could go as early as late 1 or 2 (rounds in the draft). But scouts have been all over the place,” Walker said.

Marsden’s stock took off at the Area Code games in Long Beach, California, last fall, when his fastball touched 94 mph.

But his self-taught curveball was the real jaw-dropper. A company called TrackMan used a military-grade 3D Doppler radar system to track pitches there and recorded Marsden’s curveball at 3,055 revolutions per minute.

No other curveball had passed 3,000 RPMs since the company started tracking at the Area Code games four years ago.

A good curveball is more than just a lot of RPMs. But for comparison — the average MLB curveball is about 2,400 RPMs, according to TrackMan.

“I was walking back to my car to go to the hotel and a Diamondbacks scout stopped me with a Giants scout,” Marsden said. “He called me back over and looked at me and said, ‘Do you know you just broke the curveball record?’

“I was like, ‘I didn’t know there was a curveball record.’ ”

He said he’s worked with former Chicago White Sox pitcher Jim Parque and Auburn Mountainview pitching coach Chuck Schroeder extensively on it, specifically making it look more like his fastball.

“You really can’t tell,” Auburn Mountainview center fielder Jeffrey Morgan said. “He doesn’t change his arm motion or anything. And his curveball is so good to the point he could throw it 15 feet in front of the plate and someone will chase after it.”

Marsden was named the 3A South Puget Sound League player of the year. He’s struck out 98 batters in 53 2/3 innings and has a 0.65 ERA. Auburn Mountainview opens the 3A state tournament against Seattle Prep at 10 a.m. Saturday at Bannerwood Park in Bellevue, hoping to make a run at its second state title in three years.

“You just don’t see guys bring it in the low 90s,” Walker said. “That’s the beauty of taking a guy like him to the playoffs. Our league sees him all year long, but these other teams have been working against guys who throw 75-80 (mph) all year long.”

But really, Marsden has only hit 94 mph but a couple times this season. He’s mostly sat around 88-89.

Marsden needed five stitches on his finger after he cut it in his garage putting some old baseball bags in the rafters. He grabbed onto a beam and sliced it sliding down.

He had no command his first game back. Walker said Marsden couldn’t have thrown a strike even if the mound was moved forward 30 feet.

“Instead of getting angry I just got emotional and upset,” Marsden said.

“I remember coming back on the bus and I ended up crying just because I didn’t know if I could do it. The baseball still doesn’t feel right, but I’m getting used to it.”

Marsden was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the fourth grade. It’s why he likes to work so fast on the mound — so he can keep out of his own head.

But he said he’s most learned to deal with it through baseball. Every class assignment he tries to relate to baseball, especially math problems. He said he’ll often lose focus in school and play with his curveball motion while sitting at his desk.

“My teachers are always like, ‘Working on the curveball?’ ” Marsden said.

He got a tattoo for his 18th birthday this past January of a cross with baseball seams running through it.

“Everybody always asks me what it means. I say ‘Baseball Religion,’ ” said Marsden, who said he also wants a tattoo of his nickname, “Warrior.”

“Because I play baseball on Sundays instead of go to church. My mom will ask, ‘Are you going to church?’ I say, ‘Yep.’ … Because I’m going to a baseball field.”

Walker coached another pitcher who was a little quirky like that, too.

His name was Tim Lincecum. Walker coached the former University of Washington standout and World Series pitcher with the San Francisco Giants at Liberty High, and they won a 3A state title together in 2003.

Lincecum, at 5 feet 10, wasn’t quite as tall as Marsden, who is 6-5, but both are rail thin. Walker said the biggest difference was Lincecum “never walked anybody” and that Marsden can get a little erratic at times.

But they’re certainly the two best pitchers he’s ever coached.

“I compare them quite a bit, actually,” Walker said. “Just in his looseness and ability to get down the hill and lengthen out. Very similar. Though I don’t tell (Marsden) that.”

And both are deceivingly athletic.

“Tim was this goofy guy, but he’d be doing cartwheels and backflips,” Walker said. “Tim was so small as a sophomore but he improved his junior year, and his senior year he was lights out.

“With Justin, we’ve seen it. He’s had the size, he’s had the arm speed ever since he was young. It was just a matter of time before he came to fruition.”

And now he’s got Auburn Mountainview on the road to another state title — and potentially the MLB draft soon after.

“I’ve put my whole life into this game and learning everything,” Marsden said. “So I’m just trying my best to get out of it what I’ve put in and to be able to give back to my parents and the team and everybody else who has given to me.”