By JAY LeBLANC
The Washington Nationals used the first of their two first-round picks in the 2006 draft on Miami high school third baseman Chris Marrero because of his power potential and advanced approach at the plate. After moving to the outfield and holding his own as a 17-year-old in Rookie ball that summer, Marrero slugged his way to advanced Class A in 2007 and entered the 2008 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals organization. Marrero returned to advanced Class A and made his second position switch as a pro, this time to first base. He got off to a slow start at the plate and just as he started to heat up in late June, he broke his leg while sliding into home. He finished his abbreviated campaign with a .250 average and 11 home runs in 70 games.
Marrero, now 20 and ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Nationals organization, impressed the team with the way he rehabbed his injury and showed up in noticeably better shape this spring. He’s off to a fast start for the Potomac Nationals, hitting .320 with five doubles, a pair of homers and 11 RBI in his first 13 games. Marrero, who bats right-handed, has fanned more than twice as often as he has walked thus far as a pro, and the trend has continued so far this season with nine K’s and just two walks in 50 at bats. On Tuesday, I had a chance to watch Marrero play not once but twice as he and his teammates hosted a doubleheader consisting of two seven-inning games against the Chicago White Sox-affiliated Winston-Salem Dash.
Top 1st, one out, runner on third: Marrero rips a pair of would-be doubles just foul past third base against the Dash’s starter, right-hander Anthony Carter. He then launches a missile well over the left field wall, but it’s foul by less than 10 feet. A couple pitches later, Marrero hits a line drive that reaches the warning track in left-center without getting more than 20 feet off the ground at any point. It goes for an RBI double.
Bottom 1st, one out, no one on: Marrero’s brother, Christian Marrero, is playing left field for Winston-Salem in this game. Unlike his younger brother, Christian Marrero is a left-handed hitter. He turns on an inside pitch and hits a sharp grounder to Marrero’s right. The balls clanks off the heel of his glove and is eventually retrieved by the second baseman. It was a difficult play and the official scorer’s decision to score it a hit is justifiable, but just about every big league first baseman makes this play.
Top 4th, none on, none out: Marrero takes a ball and then gets jammed by a Carter fastball and fouls it back over the screen. He takes another ball and then hits another foul pop-up, this one to the first base side. With the count at 2-and-2, Carter leaves a fastball over the middle of the plate, but Marrero just misses it and fouls it back into the screen. On the very next pitch he hits a routine grounder to shortstop for the inning’s first out.
Top 5th, two out, runner on third: Shortstop Danny Espinosa backhands a grounder in the hole and throws it in Marrero’s direction. Marrero attempts to scoop up Espinosa’s throw on one hop but can’t squeeze it, and the Winston-Salem hitter is credited with an infield hit and an RBI. It’s the second time Marrero has been faced with a tough but makeable play and failed to get the job done.
Top 6th, one out, no one on: Espinosa again fields a grounder in the hole and tosses toward Marrero. It short-hops Marrero, but this time he snags it backhanded.
Bottom 6th, one out, runner on first: Marrero digs in against lefty sidewinder Wander Perez. He takes the first two offerings for balls but then chases a changeup in the dirt for strike one. It’s the only time he’ll swing and miss or take a cut at a ball that is blatantly out of the strike zone all day. With left-handed hitter Michael Burgess on deck, Perez refuses to give Marrero anything to hit. He accepts the walk and jogs to first before giving way to pinch-runner Stephen King.
Bottom 1st two outs, runner on third: Marrero, serving as the designated hitter in the second game of the twinbill, takes a ball from Winston-Salem right-hander Matt Zaleski and then fouls an offspeed pitch back to the screen. Zaleski’s next pitch appears high, but it’s called a strike. With the count now at 1-and-2, Marrero fights off a fastball to stay alive. Zaleski’s next pitch is high and outside and Marrero watches it pass by, but the plate umpire deems it a strike on a very questionable call.
Bottom 4th, two outs, no one on: Marrero takes a curve outside for ball one and a fastball right down the middle for strike one. Zaleski’s next offering is of the offspeed variety and just misses outside for ball two. Marrero then takes a fastball low and outside to get himself into a prime hitters’ count at 3-and-1, but fails to pull the trigger on a fastball right down the pipe. With the count full, Zaleski paints the corner with a fastball. For the second consecutive at bat, Marrero is caught looking on a questionable pitch.
Bottom 6th, one out, runners on first and second: Marrero digs in against 6-foot-4 right-hander Henry Mabee and takes the first pitch for strike one. Mabee’s second offering is a ball in the dirt. He comes back with a fastball on the inside corner, which Marrero fights off for strike two. Mabee’s next pitch is a curveball just off the outside corner that Marrero takes for a ball to even the count at 2-and-2. Mabee’s next offering is a fastball on the outside part of the plate. Marrero goes with the pitch and smacks a line-drive single between first and second to knock in a run.
Marrero finished the afternoon 2-for-5 with a double, two RBI, two strikeouts and a walk. Both of his hits were very solidly struck, and he had a potential home run and a pair of possible doubles go just foul down the left field line. Marrero showed a better eye at the plate than his K-to-walk numbers would indicate, and though he was caught looking twice, another umpire may have called both of those pitches balls. Marrero only swung and missed once all day, and that cut also marked the only time he chased a ball out of the strike zone. On defense, Marrero failed to make a pair of tough plays that a lot of better first basemen would make easily. That he dug out Espinosa’s second one-hopper from the hole was encouraging, but it’s clear Marrero has a long way to go defensively.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Click here to read Chris Marrero’s National Pastime Prospect Q&A