When the Nationals took Chris Marrero with the 14th pick in the 2006 draft, there was little reason to question their assertions the high schooler was a big part of their future. His prodigious swing gave him the ability to sting the ball to all fields, even as an 18-year-old, and after a couple of moves from third base to the outfield and then to first base, Washington had found a position they could hand to him as soon as he was ready.
That date might be coming soon, but it's more questionable than ever whether Marrero will get his chance with the Nationals. He'll be 22 this July and will likely start the season at Class AA Harrisburg, but his defense still lacks polish. Further complicating matters is the Nationals' discussions about a contract extension with first baseman Adam Dunn, who could get a multi-year deal if he can pair competent defense with his annual 40-homer output. If Dunn gets a three-year deal, Marrero would be blocked until he was 25 -- meaning either Dunn would have to move back to the outfield for him to play first, or he could be trade bait.
Marrero's only leverage -- and really, his only recourse -- is to turn in a big year in the minors. He knows it, and he knows what it could mean for his future.
"Hopefully this year, I have a good year, I produce, and if the team wants me to move up, I move up," he said.
Baseball America ranked Marrero the No. 1 prospect in the organization in 2008, but missed most of that season when he broke his leg sliding into home plate. He slipped to No. 6 on Baseball America's prospect list before this season, but that had as much to do with the addition of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen to the organization as anything else, and Marrero enters the season after an impressive tour through the Arizona Fall League.
He hit 16 homers at Class A Potomac last season before batting .267 in 23 games with Harrisburg at the end of the season, and posted an .810 OPS across both levels last season.
Defense is still the key issue for Marrero, though, and at Harrisburg, he'll be reunited with Randy Knorr, his former manager at Potomac who's never been shy about harping on Marrero's glove work. Marrero has been working with the Nationals' infield coaches on many of the same defensive drills Dunn is doing this spring,
"I'm just getting with the coaches and working on my footwork, mostly," Marrero said. "Just mostly picks off the bag, setting your feet when you get a throw, just moving your feet when you get the ground balls."
Dunn's extension talks, Marrero said, don't bother him; he said he doesn't pay much attention to the reports. But they could affect him.
He's spent some time this spring trying to meet all the new faces in the Nationals' front office, including many of the ones that are involved with player development in the minors. Still, his best response is to demonstrate his own merits, whatever that means for his future.
"I guess all I can control is what I do on the field," Marrero said. "If my future's with this organization, it's with this organization. If not, it's with somebody else. I just want to be in the big leagues, no matter with who. ... They're just hoping for a big year for me, just as I am."