First impressions can really hurt sometimes. Deven Marrero entered the year as a consensus top five prospect. In my early draft preview last September he seemed like a lock to be a top three pick. He had the defense and the ability to stick at shortstop, which is something that is extremely undervalued. He wasn’t doing much with the bat, although he showed some potential to at least hit enough to make it in the majors, doing well in the past with wood bats.
Last year Marrero had a .315/.352/.434 line in 219 at-bats. The new bats might have played a role, as he hit for a .397 average and a 1.070 OPS as a freshman. But in either case, a .786 OPS isn’t that impressive in college, especially since there’s a big jump from college to the majors.
Most people don’t focus on players until they become draft eligible. So anything Marrero did last year was largely ignored at the start of the season. If he had a breakout year and put up strong numbers, all would be forgotten for his 2011 season. But Marrero didn’t do that. His first impression was a bad one, and it only raised more questions about those 2011 numbers.
Marrero started off slow, hitting for a .268/.324/.381 line in 97 at-bats in the first two months of the season. A .705 OPS isn’t bad for a strong defensive shortstop in the majors. But again, there’s a huge jump from college to the majors.
For whatever reason, something clicked in the second half. Marrero hit for a .298/.356/.479 line in 121 at-bats during April and May. He’s been on fire during the final two weekends of the year, hitting for a .500/.536/.731 line in 26 at-bats, with hits in all six games.
The strong finish is a plus in favor of Marrero. His extremely low 8% strikeout rate is also a positive, as that’s a number he maintained all year. The downside is that he wasn’t exactly lighting up opposing pitching, with an .835 OPS in the final two months. That’s an improvement over his first two months. But what does that translate to?
We only have one year of data with draft picks and the new bats. Last year there were eight college hitters taken in the first round (not counting the compensation round). Seven of those eight hitters had an OPS in college over 1.000. Only two of those seven have an OPS over .800 in high-A ball, although we’re only talking about two months of stats there. The one player who posted a sub-1.000 OPS was Levi Michael, who was a shortstop with an .868 OPS and no guarantee to stick at the position. Michael has a .567 OPS in high-A in 158 at-bats this year.
None of this really means anything for Marrero. But it does point out that even though the new bats have restricted hitting, there are still good hitting numbers at the college level. And if hitting for an OPS over 1.000 doesn’t guarantee an OPS over .800 in high-A, then what are Marrero’s chances of future success after only hitting for an .835 OPS in two months out of his junior year?
Basically we’re back to where we started at the beginning of the season with Marrero. He’s got great defense, and is a sure bet to stick at shortstop. He’s got a good swing and a good approach at the plate, with good strike zone judgement. That hasn’t translated over to the stat line, which means that Marrero hasn’t really advanced this year. He’s still that top five prospect with plus defense, a near-guarantee to stick at shortstop, and a projectable bat that hasn’t put up the numbers yet.
That last part is the key. If a team believes they can fix Marrero’s swing — whether that team is the Pirates or any other team — then he absolutely is a top five prospect. For Pirates fans, that’s not a welcoming idea. The Pirates have a few minor success stories. We’ve seen Starling Marte, Robbie Grossman, Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, and others take strides with their offense. But we also haven’t really seen any players developed to have success at the major league level. I think the jury is still out on that one, as I don’t think four to five years is a good time frame to draw a conclusion on that subject. It sounds like a lot of time, but when we’re talking about developing a hitter in to a consistent major league hitter, and then talking about establishing a trend, it’s not that much.
That lack of a trend explains why most Pirates fans are apprehensive about Marrero. And there’s reason for that concern if the Pirates do take him. We can’t say that they are bad at developing hitters, but we also can’t say that they’re good at developing hitters. The lack of a trend in either direction, plus struggles from top picks Pedro Alvarez and Tony Sanchez, raises some legitimate concerns.
The Pirates can’t draft based on the lack of a trend, or the unease with the pick and the potential development of a bat. If they believe they can help Marrero hit, then they need to take him. An organization can’t think the same way as fans. The moment they doubt their development system, then it either becomes time to overhaul the development system, or for everyone to be replaced. And as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think a trend has emerged in either direction in regards to their long-term developmental skills.
One thing we can dismiss is the idea that Marrero is a reach. He’s probably not going to be the top ranked player on the board when the Pirates select, but there’s not going to be a huge gap in value between him and the higher ranked guys. And most of the people who are calling Marrero a reach are lobbying for guys like Gavin Cecchini or Richie Shaffer, who are ranked lower than Marrero. And I think the reason is that those guys either have the numbers, or there are no numbers at all, which removes the big question of whether the Pirates can develop the bat.
I can’t say I’d take Marrero. I’m guessing that either Albert Almora will be there for the Pirates, or one of the top six guys (Byron Buxton, Mark Apple, Mike Zunino, Kyle Zimmer, Kevin Gausman, Carlos Correa) will magically fall to eighth. There’s been talk that Mike Zunino could fall to eighth, which would be an absolute steal for the Pirates, in my opinion. I’d also take Lucas Giolito if there are no long-term concerns with his elbow. Outside of those guys, I’d probably rate Marrero in the same talent group as guys like Max Fried, Michael Wacha, and others in the 8-15 rankings.
If the top six, plus Almora go in the top seven picks, and there are major question marks surrounding Giolito, I think the pick of Marrero would be fine. But all it takes is for one of the top seven teams to dream on the upside of Max Fried, and then you’ve got one of those seven players dropping to the Pirates. Or, if Giolito is good for the long-term, then you’ve got eight qualified players at the top of the draft board, all with upsides that are arguably better than Marrero.
Thus, we have the joys of picking lower in the draft. If Marrero had a breakout season at the plate this year, he’d be a slam dunk pick at eighth. He’d also be a sure bet to go in the top three in this draft, which means we wouldn’t even be talking about him. The only reason we’re talking about him as a guarantee to be on the board when the Pirates pick is because he hasn’t broken out yet, and there’s no guarantee that the bat will break out. That’s the position the Pirates are in. They can hope to get lucky with a top guy falling to them. They can play it safe with a guy who put up good numbers this year, but might not have the highest upside. Or they can take a guy like Marrero — someone whose stock has fallen, but who is a higher risk/high reward player — and hope that he will still live up to his pre-season rankings.