- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

For Stephen King and Chris Marrero, two of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals organization, there will be many adjustments in their first full season of professional baseball.

When they made their debuts with the Hagerstown Suns last night, the first adjustment for the Florida natives was the weather — the temperature at Municipal Stadium dipped into the 30s by game time.

“Compared to Florida where it is 85 to 89 every day? You come here, and it is freezing,” King said. “That’s a little twist, but I guess it’s not that bad.”

The pair was part of a high school-heavy 2006 draft class for the Nationals. Along with outfielder Stephen Englund and pitchers Colton Willems and Glen Gibson, this group will be linked together and closely monitored in the coming seasons.

Marrero was the Nationals’ first pick in June at No. 15 overall. Willems was the other first-round choice at No. 22. King and pitcher Sean Black, who went unsigned and is now at Seton Hall, were second-round selections. Englund in the third round and Gibson in the fourth completed a string of six high school players in six picks.

That signaled a shift in philosophy for an organization suddenly flush with resources after years of financial neglect.

“We haven’t talked about it a lot, but we probably know in our heads we want to stay together,” Marrero said. “We just have to get comfortable and get to know each other because we are going to be together in the future. You never know what is going to happen. We might not get there together. Maybe we will get there one by one, but you’ve just got to keep working.”

Any of those other three could join Hagerstown during the summer. But for now, King, 19, and Marrero, 18, will get a head start on the process.

One of the biggest adjustments for them will be living away from home — something they will go through together, sharing an apartment in Hagerstown.

“Living on your own is good,” Marrero said. “Just getting away from Miami and the big city and living here on my own — I can mature and learn how to cook and do your laundry — stuff I didn’t have to do as a kid.”

Added King: “It is a nice apartment. We went grocery shopping the other day — got some supplies. We are doing all right. It is a lot of fun.”

The length of the season and dealing with the daily grind of professional baseball represent other adjustments. King signed too late last season to play, so last night was his professional debut. Marrero had 81 at-bats before a bout with viral meningitis in August cut his season short.

Even though both players spent more time on fields than guys from northern climates, a 140-plus game season — plus spring training contests — will be the most they have played by far.

“In spring training alone, we played over what a regular high school season already is,” King said. “In spring training alone, you kind of get a wake-up call that it is going to be a long season. It is exciting.”

Marrero has one extra adjustment to make. He was considered one of the best high school hitters in the draft, but he has played third base his entire life. The Nationals are likely set at third for quite some time with young star Ryan Zimmerman, so Marrero will shift to the outfield.

The man in charge of mentoring these precocious talents is new manager Tommy Herr. He spent the past two seasons managing in the Atlantic League and brings with him 11 years of major league experience to draw upon.

“We have some very high draft picks. We got some guys the organization really likes,” Herr said. “Maybe of all the clubs in the organization, this team has the most prospects. It should be a fun team to watch develop.

“It is a daily monitoring process when you manage at the lower levels. … You basically have to teach them everything — how to react to certain situations, how to get through the tough times. Everything from how to put your uniform on properly to how to deal with umpires, fans and the media. The learning curve is just beginning.”

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