Nationals cut Marrero, Brown, Kimball, Norris

VIERA, Fla. - Nationals manager Jim Riggleman announced three cuts Thursday afternoon. First baseman Chris Marrero, outfielder Corey Brown and right-hander Cole Kimball were all optioned, presumably to Triple-A Syracuse.

Marrero, a first-round draft pick in 2006, has long been considered the team’s first baseman of the future, but he has been slow to deliver on his potential. However, Marrero followed up a strong 2010 season at Double-A Harrisburg by batting .381 (8-for-21) with three RBIs during spring camp, and has impressed the organization with his defensive improvement.

“He’s really shown progress with the bat tremendously,” Riggleman said of the 22-year-old Marrero. “What he’s shown us here in spring training with the glove, he’s been fine. He’s just a big, good-looking, right-handed hitter. He’s really looking like a player. I think he’s going to have a nice career as a first baseman in the big leagues. He’s on a good pace - get to Triple-A this year and get after it.”

Kimball, who was converted to relief in 2009 after being drafted as a starter in the 12th round in 2006, made a strong push to make the club in his first major league spring training, posting a 1.13 ERA in six relief outings. He struck out eight and walked three in eight innings,holding opposing batters to a .185 average.

Riggleman said the 25-year-old Kimball probably deserved to make the 25-man roster, but the Nationals won’t have enough innings for him as camp progresses.

“As your starters get stretched out further, there’s just not enough innings to give guys enough work. So Cole would end up, right now, not pitching enough,” Riggleman said. “He’s pitched his way onto the club; we just can’t let it happen right now.”

Having Kimball start in the minors also delays his eligibility for arbitration and free agency, meaning the Nationals could potentially keep him longer and at a more reasonable salary.

Brown, acquired in the trade that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland, was a long shot in the Nationals’ center field derby. But the 25-year-old diminished his chances by spraining his left ankle in a home plate collision during a March 1 exhibition game and has been slow to recover. Brown played in only two games, going 1-for-3 with an RBI.

“(Brown) didn’t get a chance to show what he can do. ... The injury just didn’t allow him to try to overwhelm us with a performance,” Riggleman said.

Update: The Nationals also reassigned catcher Derek Norris to Double-A Harrisburg.

The moves leave Washington’s camp roster at 38.