Nationals 1B Chris Marrero is one of Washington’s top prospects. The 21-year-old from Miami was drafted 15th in the 2006 MLB Draft. He was ranked 6th in the Nationals farm system this past offseason according to Baseball America. To see if Marrero will become a star in the big leagues, we need to first compare him to the 1B in the big leagues to see if he compares favorably to their numbers in the minors.
Here are the average minor-league numbers for the 25 qualified MLB players who played 1B this season when they were in their age-20 season:
* Age is the average age of the debut season for these 1B
** Marrero turned 21 on July 2, 2009 after playing 71 games. He played 64 games from July 2 to September 7; AFL games were not counted in this analysis.
Marrero’s age is a plus. He will turn 22 in July. He should be able to reach the big leagues by Opening Day 2011 (Age 22) or as a September call up (Age 23) next year. More than half (52%) of the players in this sample reached the big leagues at age 22 or younger. Nearly 90 percent (88) reached by age 23 or younger. Only three of the 25 qualified 1B reached after the age of 23 (Ryan Howard, 24; Adam LaRoche, 24; Kevin Youkilis, 25). Perhaps it’s not a bad sign to reach after 23, given that these three players have combined for four All-Star appearances and six Top-6 finishes in the MVP voting.
Only one player in this sample reached the big leagues at age 20 (Miguel Cabrera), while 11 of the 17 who played pro ball at age 20 played at AA or higher. Two of them made it to AAA that season (Albert Pujols, Paul Konerko).
Here is the percentile rank of where Marrero compares to this sample of 25’s minor-league numbers:
Unlike our more recent prospect comparison, Marrero only finishes in the top half in three of seven categories and finishes in the bottom 3rd in four of the categories.
Marrero compares somewhat favorably to the others in both HR’s and HR/PA%. But, Marrero lags behind in all of the triple slash. What’s concerning is the fact that Marrero’s SLG% is 38 points behind the average. Baseball America was quoted with this on Marrero’s power: “Marrero’s best tool is his plus-plus raw power to all fields, though he’s still learning to tap into it.”
Except for a 57-game stretch in Low-A in 2007, Marrero hasn’t shown that power yet. Another concern is that his isolated power has declined in each of the past 3 seasons (.209 in 2007, .203 in 2008, and .168 in 2009).
Only two players had an OPS within 30 points of Marrero’s .810. One was Prince Fielder, but Marrero compares the best with Adrian Gonzalez:
Both players have almost same amount of HR’s and HR/PA% and have a similar ISO. Marrero edges Gonzalez in triple slash stats mostly due to better luck with balls in play and playing in A ball for half the season. Marrero had a 20.8 K%, 9.0 BB% Gonzalez had a 19.5 K%, 9.4 BB%.
After a disappointing Age-21 season (.692 OPS between 2 levels), Gonzalez had a solid Age-22 season (.821 OPS in AAA). Gonzalez went on to have a brief stint in the big leagues that season (16 games). At age 23, Gonzalez had a breakout season (.960 OPS in AAA) which led to a midseason promotion to the Texas Rangers. In 2006, Gonzalez at the age of 24, became a full-time MLB player. That season he started a streak of four straight seasons with a slugging percentage of .500 or better, culminating in a 2009 season where he finished in the Top 5 in OPS.
Gonzalez started showing his power at the age of 24. It will be interesting to see if Marrero can tap into his “Plus-Plus raw power to all fields” that Baseball America believes he has, similar to the way that Gonzalez did. If Marrero becomes an everyday 1B, it will mostly likely happen at age 23 or 24 like it did for Gonzalez.
It’s more likely that Marrero ends up as a journeyman 1B for most of his career. Marrero’s stats do not have any special indicators that point to him being an average 1B for the future. Marrero’s best hope is to follow the Adrian Gonzalez path of breaking out at around age 23.
Gonzalez, like Marrero, looked like a disappointment, but Gonzalez got traded from the Marlins to the Rangers. The Rangers were not patient enough with Gonzalez and he got traded to the Padres. The Padres were rewarded by watching Gonzalez become a franchise player. The Nationals have to hope that they won’t have to trade Marrero before that happens.