To kick off our DoD prospect rankings, allow me to introduce the #10 prospect in the Nationals’ system, as ranked by myself, Editor Jared Book, Staff Writer Andy Linder, and All Over The Hill Editor Michael Natelli: first baseman Chris Marrero.
How Marrero came to place on this list is a bit of an interesting situation. He was only ranked on one list, that being Michael’s, but he placed fifth there. That story is a great microcosm of how widely opinions vary on Marrero, and both sides have great points. His supporters will point to his pedigree: a high school teammate of Gio Gonzalez, he was the 15th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. He hit a combined .275 between A and High A as an 18-year-old in 2007 with an .822 OPS, and jumped to #27 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects, 17 spots ahead of Reds 1B Joey Votto. Here, however, is where his detractors will take over.
He had a bit of a precipitous decline after his categorization as one of the game’s top prospects. He hit .250 with a paltry .778 OPS in 70 games at High A in 2008 before a leg injury ended his season and he dropped all the way off BA’s Top 100, but held on as the #3 prospect in a very weak Nationals farm system. In the 2009 season, he had a .810 OPS between High A and AA, continuing to be just slightly worse than what everyone hoped. He was #6 in the system in 2010, but that drop may say less about him and more about the prospects who jumped him: Stephen Strasburg, Derek Norris, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, and Danny Espinosa. The two prospects ahead of him on the 2009 list had already graduated to the MLB level: Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. He was quickly becoming a middling player in a rapidly improving farm system. He hit .294 at AA in 2010, still only 21, but his power and on-base stats were lacking, as he hit only 18 home runs in 141 games, had an OPS of .800, and had a K/BB ratio of 2.37. He was just clinging on to the bottom of the Nationals’ Top Ten in 2011, at #9 and below guys like Cole Kimball and Eury Perez. His 2011 season was slightly more encouraging, but showed no changes in the major flaws of Marrero’s game. He hit .300 with a career-high .825 OPS in AAA as a 22-year-old, but a .825 OPS in the minors won’t cut it for a first baseman. Baseball America seems to have agreed with me, and dropped him from their 2012 Nationals Top Ten. Still, those offensive numbers could harbor hope for a somewhat-successful MLB career, especially given his age, but the 2012 season put a large dint in those hopes. Marrero tore his hamstring playing in the Dominican Winter League before the 2012 season and missed a large chunk of the year, playing in only 37 games at AAA, hitting .244 with a .640 OPS.
Verdict: As Michael said in his ranking, ” He hit .280 in his limited big-league at-bats that August, and there’s no reason why he can’t do it again. The key will be putting together a solid season in his first year back from injury. ” He may hit .280, but he won’t walk enough or hit for enough power to play first base every day. Coming back from his hamstring tear at 100% will be critical, but unless Marrero can recapture his 2011 form and use his high average to carve out a journeyman career, he seems doomed to years as a quadruple-A player, without the requisite power and plate discipline to play regularly in the majors.