CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 28: Chris Marrero #14 of the Washington Nationals and Ian Desmond #6 of the Washington Nationals celebrate during their game against the Cincinnati Reds on August 28, 2011 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds defeated the Nationals 5-4 in 14 innings. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Not everyone is excited about the prospects the Washington Nationals are looking at this September. ESPN.com's Keith Law's review of 23-year-old first baseman Chris Marrero, in a story on high-profile prospects, finds flaws in his game, and Danny Espinosa's comments, in a Washington Times article in which he discusses potentially losing playing time to a new addition to the roster, provide hints of what the future holds as the Nationals, who have depth at some positions where they'll have to sort things out over the last month of the season and Spring Training, move forward toward shaping the 2012 roster.
Chris Marrero, the Nats' '06 1st Round pick, is 3 for 8 with 2 K's (a hint of Andres Galarraga in his swing) and two costly errors in his first two major league games, after a 2011 season at Triple-A Syracuse in which he put up a .300/.375/.449 line with 30 doubles, 14 HR's and a .996 fld% in his sixth season in the Nationals' system. ESPN.com's Keith Law in his article entitled, "Scouting high-profile debuts", however, writes that Marrero, "... is going to have to hit to establish himself as a big league regular, as he's limited to first base and doesn't add much value there on defense." The ESPN.com writer doesn't see that happening, projecting that, "He could hang around for a long time as a platoon bat or below-average regular."Adam LaRoche is under contract for another year and expected to return to first base next season in the second-year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal. Michael Morse has owned first base since LaRoche underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and damaged rotator cuff in his shoulder, but with Marrero up and getting a look now, Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson has put Michael Morse back in left where he's expected to play next season, so is it another season at Triple-A for Marrero in 2012? A bench role behind LaRoche? Is he being showcased for potential trade partners?
Nats' SS Ian Desmond told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore in a recent article entitled, "Nationals to call up former first round pick Chris Marrero", that he knows the first baseman has earned the promotion, hopes Marrero, "... takes full advantage of this opportunity," and thinks he'll get a chance to prove what he can do. "'I think they’re really going to give him a chance to see what he’s going to do,'" Desmond tells the WaPost writer.
Desmond, however, "politely declined comment" when talk turned to additions to the Nats' the middle infield in an article by Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak entitled, "Nationals’ infield combo may be tweaked."
Espinosa, who came up at the end of the 2010 season and took over at second this past Spring, as Desmond had at short the previous season, told the Washington Times' writer it was different then since he took over for veteran infielder Adam Kennedy who didn't figure in the Nats' future, and though Espinosa doesn't say it, Desmond took over for Cristian Guzman, whose time as an everyday member of the the Nationals' lineup had clearly ended.
"'I’m not going to give up my spot just to help someone,'" Espinosa's quoted saying, "'I won’t do that. … If that’s what happens, that’s what happens. I hope that doesn’t happen.'" No one's discussed what changes might take place, according to the report, but both infielders have been given significant time to establish themselves full-time, Desmond the last two seasons and Espinosa this year, and Stephen Lombardozzi, whose expected promotion is behind the discussion has earned the same opportunity.
Lombardozzi has a combined .315/.365/.440 line at Double-and-Triple-A this season, with a .320/.364/.426 slash in Syracuse and a combined .996 fld% with just two errors in the field all season. Espinosa's been excellent defensively and shown unexpected power at the plate (mostly in the first half). Desmond has improved significantly defensively, though he still has his share of errors, and he struggled at the plate in the first half (.223/.264/.308) before rallying thus far with a .277/.344/.397 second-half slash.
But Lombardozzi deserves a look late this season. Espinosa and Desmond have earned their positions, but before Lombardozzi emerged there was no one really knocking at the door to challenge them for their spots. The Nationals seem to think Espinosa and Desmond are the middle infield of their future, and they've given them the chance to prove it, but they were reportedly (according to some sources) unwilling to include Lombardozzi in rumored deals this past July when Desmond's name also surfaced briefly in trade talks.
Marrero, Lombardozzi, and pitchers Tom Milone and Brad Peacock among others will reportedly have a chance to get their first major league stints out of the way this Spring, and there's little reason to call them up if they're not going to contribute in some significant way. While it may make things uncomfortable now, the competition in September and next Spring is the best possible thing for a franchise that's lacked the depth to this point to have young prospects push not only veterans but even other young talents for roles on the major league roster. Depth is never a bad thing, when talking deals or position battles, and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's made clearly recently in trade talks and discussions that he thinks the Nationals have it.