- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Chris Marrero might not have liked the blustery April weather in Hagerstown, Md., but the Miami native certainly has found the warmer May temperatures to be more suitable.

Marrero, Washington’s first pick in the 2006 draft at No. 15 overall, has adapted well in his first full professional season. He is hitting .297 with 12 home runs, and 11 of them came in the second month of the season.

“I am definitely surprised. I just wanted to come in this year and just have a solid year,” Marrero said. “I guess I am exceeding my expectations. I am just working every day, and the hard work is paying off.”

His 12 home runs are tied for the most in the organization and rank second in the Class A South Atlantic League. Marrero’s 45 RBI lead all Nationals farmhands. At Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium, he’s hitting .391 with nine home runs in 24 games.

It is not a bad full-season debut for a player who doesn’t turn 19 until July 2.

“He’s swinging the bat very well,” Hagerstown manager Tommy Herr said. “He’s been remarkably consistent for a young hitter, which I think at this stage of his career is quite unusual. Most young hitters have problems with expanding the strike zone and chasing bad pitches or breaking balls. He will do that occasionally but not often enough to get him into prolonged slumps.”

Marrero was considered one of the top high school hitters in last year’s draft, and he certainly has delivered. He was a third baseman at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami, but he moved to left field after the Nationals drafted him.

Municipal’s left field can be an adventure. Left-center field is considerably deeper than right-center, and there is an incline near the warning track and wall. Marrero was playing exclusively in left earlier in the season, but with regular right fielder Mike Daniel out of the lineup with a knee injury, he has been getting regular work in right.

“He’s a work in progress in the outfield. He’ll catch everything that he gets to; the problem is getting to balls,” Herr said. “His lack of speed prevents him from running balls down — as a manager or as a pitcher looking back there, balls that you would expect to be caught.

“That’s a problem, and it is something the organization is going to have to address at some point — either have him work on his speed and agility, which would be a good thing anyway, or the other decision would be to put him at first base, where speed isn’t a premium. There’s no urgency at this point to make that decision, but when he’s ready to play in the big leagues, they can say, ‘OK, where are we going to play him?’ ”

One thing that didn’t help Marrero with his transition to the outfield was his health. His first professional experience in the rookie level Gulf Coast League was cut short in August because of viral meningitis, and he said that affected how he was able to prepare for this season.

“I was sick last year, and I lost a lot of weight, so this offseason I was just working on trying to get my weight back,” Marrero said. “I did some running, but not as much as I should have. I was more focused on getting my strength back. This offseason there is going to a mix of both; I am going to try and get stronger but also trying to get more agility and quickness.”

He started this season with a roommate — shortstop and fellow 2006 draftee Stephen King. But when King was sent to extended spring training, Marrero was suddenly an 18-year-old living on his own more than 1,000 miles away from home.

Marrero talks to his older brother, Christian, who is in the White Sox organization, nearly every day, and his parents have traveled from South Florida to western Maryland to visit him.

Marrero’s family has helped keep him humble. Despite receiving a $1.625 million signing bonus, he has remained loyal to his ride.

“I’ve got my truck from high school. It is a nice [Chevy] Tahoe with nice rims and a nice system, but no, I haven’t gone out and bought a car yet,” Marrero said. “I don’t think about that too much. I didn’t want to spend it like that, and my parents taught me to be wise with my money.”

The more Marrero hits, the more Nationals fans are certain to anticipate his arrival. But they will have to be patient — for now.

“We are just letting him play,” said Bob Boone, Washington’s assistant general manager and vice president of player development. “We are going to let his play decide, but we aren’t too worried about that. I think it is just important for him this year to play a lot.”

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