Prospect of the Day: Chris Marrero, 1B, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals gave rookie Chris Marrero a trial at first base this month. Will he have enough power to earn a regular job in 2012?
Marrero has held a prominent place on Nationals prospect lists for half a decade. Drafted in the first round (15th overall) in 2006 from high school in Opa Locka, Florida, he was considered one of the top high school hitters in the draft class that year, capable of hitting for power and average. He got off to a good start in 2007, hitting .275/.338/.484 with 23 homers in 125 games between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, impressive performance at age 18. However, he was limited to just 70 games at Potomac in 2008 by a broken leg. He returned healthy in 2009 and hit .284/.358/.452 with 17 homers between High-A and Double-A.
Moved up to Double-A full-time in 2010, he responded with a .294/.350/.450 mark with 18 homers in 524 at-bats for Harrisburg. Continuing his progression in '11, he hit .300/.375/.449 with 14 homers in 483 at-bats for Triple-A Syracuse. Through 30 games since being promoted to the majors, Marrero is hitting .257/.283/.305 with four walks and 25 strikeouts in 105 at-bats for the Nationals. His major league numbers aren't very good, but obviously he hit much better in the minors and nobody is giving up after 30 games. What can we expect in the future?
The 23-year-old Marrero is a right-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-3, 210 pounds. He lacks speed and has a mediocre arm, and has been a full-time first baseman since 2008. He was a distinctly below average fielder before this year, but dramatically cut his error rate this year in Triple-A. He made two errors in his first major league game but has since settled down. He'll never be a great fielder, but his glove will be adequate if he hits enough.
But will he hit enough? He's performed decently at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, hitting .297 with a .363 OBP, but his SLG of .450 and an average of 16 homers per season isn't great for a first baseman. Raw power is considered his best tool, but his swing mechanics don't translate this consistently into home runs. He generally handles fastballs well, but has shown difficulty with sliders and changeups. His plate discipline isn't great, but it should be better than it's looked so far in the majors once he settles in.
The Nationals would love it if Marrero could seize the first base job, and at age 23 he still has time to boost his power production. Scouting opinion is mixed about this, and some fear he could end up as a Quadruple-A hitter, consistently strong in the minors but ultimately unable to adapt or earn a full-time job in the majors. His performance through 30 games has done nothing to assuage these fears, but at the same time, the sample is so small that giving up on him is extremely premature.