PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Chris Marrero #14 of the Washington Nationals pitches the ball to first base during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 22, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Nationals won 6-1. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Then-22-year-old '06 1st Round pick Chris Marrero followed up on a .294/.350/.450, 28 double, 18 HR 2010 campaign at Double-A Harrisburg with a short 23-game stint in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico playing first for the Leones de Ponce alongside Danny Espinosa, who'd made his MLB debut late in the 2010 season. Marrero was 26 for 85 (.306/.351/.424) with four doubles and two HR's before before he left Puerto Rico when the 23-going-on-24-year-old Espinosa suffered a broken hamate bone in his right hand. Marrero had been at Class-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg with the current Nationals' second baseman, and in late 2011 he finally joined Espinosa on the right side of the infield at the major league level six years after the Washington Nationals made the then-17-year-old Marrero the 15th pick of the 2006 Draft.
In 127 games and 546 plate appearances at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, Marrero put up a .300/.375/.449 line with 30 doubles and 14 HR's. Marrero made his MLB debut in late August and had 27 hits in 117 plate appearances with the Nationals, posting a .249/.274/.294 line with five doubles in 31 games. After a shaky two-error game to start his MLB career, Marrero performed adequately at first, but there wasn't much power on display at the plate.
ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote about Marrero in a profile of debuting prospects this past August entitled, "Scouting high-profile debuts", noting that the 6'3'' right-handed hitting and throwing first baseman, "... has average to above-average power but has a slow bat with poor hand speed, and in the minors he's done most of his damage at the plate against left-handed pitchers. He could hang around for a long time as a platoon bat or below-average regular." Where the 23-year-old Marrero fits into the Washington Nationals' future plans is unclear right now.
Marrero has been the highest-ranked first base prospect in the Nationals' system in Baseball America's estimation for the past three years, and he's been in the top 10 for four years running. (His first appearance on the list the year after he was drafted he was playing the outfield.) Marrero worked his way through the system and spent the full season at Triple-A Syracuse before getting a look with the Nationals late this year. Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson moved Michael Morse back to left field when Marrero came up in September, in part to prepare Morse for Adam LaRoche's return and in part to allow Marrero to get regular playing time in the last month of the season.
Following a September 11th win in which Marrero had gone 2 for 2 with a double, sac fly and two RBI's, Johnson told reporters he was impressed with what he saw out of the rookie. "He's attacking the ball," Johnson said, and hit, "... a good sac fly with a fastball away, went the other way, turned on one in, got another good hit later." Asked about how he's improved this season, Johnson said, "He's been fine over [at first base] since the first day. The first day kind of got to him a little bit. But he's getting more aggressive. He's a smart kid and now he's producing some runs which he's very capable of doing and using the whole field and he's trying to attack the ball." Defensively, which had always been a concern with Marrero, Johnson said, "I think he's doing good. He made a couple of good plays today, nice pick up on a low throw. He's coming along."
After Marrero went 1 for 2 with a sac fly and an RBI ground-rule double to drive in two runs, including the eventual winning one in a 3-2 win over the Marlins on September 18th, the Nationals' manager explained what he described as the maturation process he'd seen Marrero go through since debuting on August 27th in Cincinnati. "Marrero, the first few days he was here was kind of feeling his way," Johnson said, "now he's letting more of his talent out and he's trying to attack the ball a little more. That's what happens with youngsters. I think he's real comfortable out there and he's got a good supporting cast."
The next step for Marrero is a trip to the Dominican Winter League, where, according to an article entitled, "To leave sweat on the playing field", by Julio Ernesto Castro at the Tigres del Licey official site, he'll be playing alongside fellow Nats' prospect catcher Jhonatan Solano and eventually Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond as Licey's Angel Santana told Licey.com's Daniel Rufenacht in an article entitled, "Licey listo para el 14 de octubre [Licey ready for October the 14th.]"
Will Marrero spend another season at Triple-A Syracuse in 2012? Adam LaRoche is expected to be at first when the season begins as long as he's healthy. Do the Nationals hold on to Marrero in case LaRoche isn't 100% healthy or in case LaRoche is eventually dealt this season in the second year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal? Or is Marrero dealt this winter as part of a package to bring back the outfielder or starter the Nationals feel they need to take the next step towards competing for their first postseason appearance? At 23, after six years in the Nationals' system, what does the future hold for the Nats' '06 1st Round pick?