Washington Nationals' '06 1st Round pick Chris Marrero was lined up for a potential role as a bench bat on the 2012 Nats' roster before a hamstring injury suffered while he was playing winter ball required surgery that cost him most of the 2012 campaign.
Chris Marrero is still just 24 years old. The Washington Nationals' '06 1st Round pick will turn 25 in July. For the second year in a row, after five consecutive seasons in which he was ranked amongst the organization's top prospects, Marrero's name was missing from the list when Baseball America released it's Top 10 list for 2013 though he's still eligible for consideration and could potentially have been included.
A then-17-year-old Marrero was ranked 2nd in the Nationals' system by Baseball America in 2007, the winter after he was selected by the Nats out of high school in Florida with the 15th overall pick of the 2006 Draft. Marrero was the top-ranked prospect in the organization on Baseball America's 2008 list of the Nats' top prospects, no.3 in 2009, no.6 in 2010 and no.9 in 2011 and late that year, at the end of a strong season at Triple-A Syracuse in which the right-handed hitting and throwing first baseman posted a .300/.375/.449 line with 30 doubles and 14 HRs in 127 games and 546 plate appearances with the team's top affiliate, Marrero made his MLB debut after six minor league seasons. Marrero played 31 games in the majors after his arrival in late August, over which the then-22-year-old first baseman was 27 for 109 (.248/.274/.294) with five doubles, four walks and 27 Ks in 117 plate appearances.
In ESPN.com's Keith Law's look at notable 2011 September call-ups, be offered his take on Marrero, describing the 6'3'', 220 lb infielder as someone who was, "... going to have to hit to establish himself as a big league regular," since he was limited to one defensive position which he didn't play exceptionally well. In the ESPN analyst's opinion, he didn't see Marrero's, "bat playing every day," in the majors, though his final assessment was that, "He could hang around for a long time as a platoon bat or below-average regular."
Though there was a lot of chatter in the winter of 2011 about what holes Washington might need to fill on the free agent market and at least one high-profile target reportedly on their radar, Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro that he thought the Nats already had everything they needed to compete in-house. Speaking generally about the prospects he thought were ready for a look at the major league level, Johnson told the Sports Fix hosts that though they may have been young and unproven and, "Maybe utilizing them on the major league level may be a little bit of a rush... [at] this day and time, I always like to see guys come from within the system, they've earned the right to compete at the major league level and they have the talent."
As for Marrero, in particular, Johnson told the ESPN980 hosts, "Chris Marrero's a good one. I think you've got to answer the question about how good are the guys you've got? They need to be up playing and playing at their top level. Then you think about adding somebody, that's the formula. You don't go out and do it, spend a lot of money right now to get some big masher."
Besides, the Nationals had Adam LaRoche under contract and Michael Morse as a capable backup. Marrero was in line for a role as a bench bat on the 2012 roster, Johnson seemed to be saying, with fellow major-league ready infielder Steve Lombardozzi a good bet for a utility infield role after he too was called up and impressed the Nats' skipper late in September of 2011.
Lombardozzi would go on to do just that, serving in a super-utility role and backing up in the infield and outfield throughout an impressive .273/.317/.354, +0.8 fWAR rookie season with the NL East Champion Nationals.
Marrero suffered a torn hamstring playing winter ball after the 2011 season and had to undergo surgery to repair the damage. While the rest of the Nationals were preparing for the 2012 campaign last Spring, Marrero was slowly rehabbing the hamstring when he should have been competing for a role as a backup first baseman and bench bat on the major league roster. Marrero returned to the field in June, but was shut down a month later when he experienced further issues with his hamstring. Marrero played nine games in July and finished the year with the Syracuse Chiefs, compiling a .272/.351/.394 line at five stops in the Nats' system as he worked his way back.
In discussing the Nationals' situation at first earlier this winter, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked in an MLB Network Radio interview about being comfortable offering Adam LaRoche a two-year deal if he wanted to return to the nation's capital for a third season because he knew that if the free agent first baseman found a better offer, the Nats had options. "We can shift Michael Morse there to his most comfortable defensive position," Rizzo said, and there were other alternatives. "We also have a young kid that's primarily a first baseman in Tyler Moore," the GM continued, "We've got a left-handed bat in the farm system named [Matt] Skole [who] probably profiles as a left-handed power bat at first base. So we're very deep there, but we would like to get Adam under contract."
The Nats' GM could have simply forgotten to mention Marrero as he was answering that question, of course, though for the sake of this narrative it's telling that the 24-going-on-25-year-old first baseman wasn't included on Rizzo's off-the-top-of-his-head depth chart. What does the future hold for Marrero? A year after he seemed lined up for a spot on the Nats' bench he's likely headed for more work at Triple-A Syracuse. With LaRoche, Moore and for now Morse on the major league roster and Skole impressing everyone in 2012 on his way to being named the Nats' Minor League Player of the Year, what the future holds for Marrero is unclear...