The famous saying goes, ‘Sometimes life gives you lemons.’
In Jorge Guzman’s case, a different fruit helped change the direction of his young life.
About eight years ago, Guzman was messing around in between games at a park in his hometown in the Dominican Republic.
Standing shirtless and barefoot in the outfield where he had played mostly during his youth baseball days, Guzman started flinging oranges at high speeds toward home plate.
That caught the attention of one of his youth coaches at the time.
“He told me throw a few pitches for him,” said Guzman, who had only been an outfielder to that point. “I put some sneakers on and started throwing. It was about 85 mph, which wasn’t bad when I was 14 years old.”
Guzman became a pitcher that day.
And on Sunday, the baseball world got a glimpse of the potential the Marlins saw in the 22-year old pitching prospect when they traded for Guzman last December.
Guzman, who has drawn comparisons to Aroldis Chapman for his blazing fastball that reportedly once reached 103 mph, showed some of that power on the mound Sunday during his appearance for the World team in a 10-6 loss to Team USA in the annual MLB Futures Game at Nationals Park.
Guzman, rated the Marlins’ No. 3 prospect overall by MLBPipeline.com, was Miami’s lone representative in the game.
Guzman faced three batters in 2/3 of an inning, allowing only an infield single that Padres’ outfield prospect Buddy Reed managed to hit off a 100-mph fastball.
Guzman threw 10 pitches (all fastballs) keeping his velocity consistently between 96 and 98 mph. He finished his outing by striking out Cardinals catcher prospect Andrew Knizner with a 99-mph fastball.
“He throws hard and has good movement on his pitches and it definitely wasn’t an easy at-bat,” said Baltimore Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who faced Guzman first and worked a full count before flying out to left field. “Just being on time [at the plate] with him is the biggest challenge.”
Guzman said that manager that discovered his powerful arm, Fernando Gomez Bonilla, became a mentor and a source of support both on and off the field since.
“Whenever I needed anything, equipment, clothes, anything to be able to play, he’s been there for me,” Guzman said.
Guzman grew up with his five siblings (one boy and four girls) and was raised by their mother in the city of Las Matas de Santa Cruz.
Guzman’s family could not attend Sunday’s game, but he said they were watching the broadcast from his hometown.
“As soon as I found out, I called my mom in the Dominican Republic,” Guzman said. “She was really happy and she just told me to keep working hard and that she believes in me.”
Guzman, who the Marlins acquired in the trade with the Yankees for Giancarlo Stanton, has begun to show improved command of that fastball in his first year in Miami’s farm system.
Guzman has compiled a 3.18 ERA in 65 innings (14 starts) at Single A Jupiter. Guzman, who dealt with a couple of minor injuries earlier in the season, has 64 strikeouts and 39 walks.
“I feel like I’m developing well and working hard to stay healthy and work to reach my goals of moving up,” said Guzman, who was signed at age 19 by the Houston Astros and was traded to the Yankees in 2017. “I chose to go pro with the goal of achieving something like this. I was confident I could make it far with the talent I had and the way I could throw the ball.”
Guzman made some slight adjustments in his delivery once joining the Marlins’ organization. After a slow start, Guzman’s results have improved since the start of June with 42 strikeouts and 16 walks 16 over his past seven starts.
“My motion was carrying my body too low before my delivery to the plate and my head was tilting back,” Guzman said. “It was making my pitches miss high a lot.”
Guzman said Bonilla has fallen ill due to kidney issues in recent years and has had to undergo dialysis. He said one of his motivations to make it to the big leagues in addition to helping his mother and family is to help Bonilla through his illness.
“He told me recently, ‘I don’t wanna die before I see you pitch in the majors,’” Guzman said. “I told him not to say things like that. I’m going to make it and he’ll get that chance to see me one day soon.”