A small contingent of position players took optional practice today on the field adjacent to Space Coast Stadium, and the talk afterward among the collection of Nationals executives and scouts – which included General Manager Mike Rizzo – was first baseman Chris Marrero.
It may have only been batting practice in mid-February, but Marrero made an impression. Marrero blasted several balls over the batter’s eye in center field, about 30 feet high and perhaps 375 feet from home plate. The power, even in batting practice, was a significant sign for Marrero.
“I feel good,” Marrero said. “I feel really strong this year. I feel like I’ve overcome a lot, and I’m going to have a great time this year.”
Marrero, once viewed as a future pillar, is something of a forgotten man in the Nationals’ organization. He tore his hamstring playing winter ball after his promising 2011 call-up. He rushed back, then hit .244/.333/.307 with zero home runs in 37 games at Class AAA Syracuse.
“It affected me a lot,” Marrero said. “When I started playing, I wasn’t 100 percent. I was just trying to push through. I tried to make that decision. I got shut down at the end, too. I think the best thing to do was rest at the end, not playing winter ball and get my leg back in shape.”
The Nationals drafted Marrero 15th overall in 2006, but injuries have prevented him from fulfilling his potential. At 24, his only big league experience remains his call-up in 2011. He broke his leg at Class A Potomac in 2008, and the torn hamstring cost him another major chunk of a season.
“I kind of compared him to some other first basemen that when they first came up, they were concentrating on being a good hitter, line-drive hitter, and he wasn’t using a lot of his power,” Johnson said. “I think by missing it last year, he was going to expand and become the kind of ballplayer that I knew he could become, and it kind of set him back.”
It also set him back in the organizational pecking order. Johnson acknowledged Marrero essentially has no chance to make the opening day roster without an injury. Adam LaRoche is signed to play first base for the next two years. The Nationals control Tyler Moore’s contractual rights for the next six seasons. Matt Skole, a highly regarded, power-hitting prospect, has a good chance to be moved across the diamond from third base.
“I don’t think about that,” Marrero said. “There’s always moves being made every day. I just want to be healthy and show this team I’m going to be healthy. If I’m not going to be healthy, I’ll show everyone else that I’m healthy.”