Chris Marrero is looking to take the next step for the Washington Nationals

If first baseman Adam Dunn is traded, Chris Marrero, 22, once considered the Nationals' top prospect, could stand to benefit.
If first baseman Adam Dunn is traded, Chris Marrero, 22, once considered the Nationals' top prospect, could stand to benefit. (David J. Phillip/associated Press)
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By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2010

HARRISBURG, PA -- These have been reflective, even humbling, days for Chris Marrero. Such is the fallout that accompanies a descent from the Washington Nationals' top prospect to something of an afterthought, even though the first baseman is accumulating the kind of extravagant numbers indicating he may be ready for a promotion.

And we're not talking from Class AA Harrisburg, his current place of employ, to the next tier in the minors. Marrero's aspirations have been far more ambitious since the Nationals selected him 15th overall in the 2006 draft. He needs permanent residence alongside the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, two other can't-miss kids and former Senators teammates, to feel validated.

"Anyone who gets drafted always thinks they want to be in the big leagues as soon as they can," Marrero said. "But they don't realize that it's a process. You've got to do your stuff in A ball, AA, then AAA, but you learn so much throughout those leagues that when you get to the big leagues, it's no sweat. You do your time in the minor leagues, the bus rides and all that, so when you get to the big leagues it's a joy."

The long-awaited call-up could be on the horizon. Heading into Saturday's trade deadline, the Nationals have had no shortage of suitors for the services of first baseman Adam Dunn. Should General Manager Mike Rizzo deal one of the game's most dependable power hitters, the move would leave an opening at first that Marrero presumably could inherit.

"You pay attention to it," Marrero said of the trade rumors involving Dunn, "but I don't talk to too many guys in the organization that will let me know."

Here's Marrero's case for the job: a .292 average with 19 doubles, 13 home runs and 60 RBI in 105 games this season before Friday's series opener against Portland. Marrero has been rampaging lately, too, batting .330 with 12 doubles, 5 homers, 30 RBI and 27 runs scored since June 1. He has reached base 86 times, or 1.6 times per game, during that stretch. At 22, Marrero is much younger than Dunn, not to mention millions cheaper.

"I know from what I've seen he's got the bat to do it," said Storen, who played with Marrero in Harrisburg earlier this season.

Now for the unbecoming reality: Marrero has a distance to go defensively. While Dunn isn't going to make anyone forget about Don Mattingly, he has put in yeoman's work to sharpen his glove and expand his range. Regardless, the Nationals can make do with Dunn's fielding deficiencies because he has been so robust at the plate.

Marrero, on the other hand, is not a slugger who can keep company with Dunn, so becoming a capable fielder must take precedence. For his part, Marrero has made upgrading defense a priority -- he performs drills daily, he said -- but only two other Harrisburg players have more errors this season, and they are middle infielders. Last season, Marrero committed 20 errors while playing for Harrisburg and Class A Potomac.

In many ways, the fielding bug has been a consequence of Marrero's lively bat. Getting Marrero in the lineup was the mission when he joined the Nationals organization; establishing a position, not so much. In high school, Marrero played third base, but he wasn't about to displace Ryan Zimmerman, so he tried outfield in 2007. When that experiment went awry because of Marrero's lack of foot speed, he shifted to first base -- his third position in as many seasons -- in 2008.

That was the year in which Baseball America ranked Marrero the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals' farm system, fueling speculation his ascent to the majors would be swift.

Then there was what could have been perceived as exclusive treatment from the Nationals' front office a season earlier, when owner Mark Lerner and then-GM Jim Bowden attended a Hagerstown game to inform Marrero of his promotion to Potomac.

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