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The Offensive Prospects

Each just wanted to play baseball. Last year, both Chris Marrero and Destin Hood said this -- albeit in very different contexts. Marrero, Washington's 2006 first-round pick, missed the second half of last season with a fibula fracture, the first serious injury of his career. Hood, after being selected by the Nationals in the second round of the 2008 draft, still needed to pick between a pro baseball career and a college football scholarship before agreeing to terms.

So, as Marrero missed his time, as Hood weighed his options, they both said roughly the same thing.

Marrero told anybody who would listen that he just wanted to get back on the field, and promised he'd come to spring training this year in top fitness.

Hood, meantime, called University of Alabama coach Nick Saban -- who wanted Hood as a wide receiver -- and told him the decision. Baseball.

With Washington Nationals' camp now more than a week old, Marrero and Hood have reinforced their standing as the team's top offensive prospects in big league camp. Their experiences here are intended for different purposes: Marrero is supposed to make big strides; Hood is supposed to simply get his feet wet.

Said Marrero: "I feel good coming into the season now."

Said Hood: "I feel like I have a long way to go."

Still, both are here, and for that alone the Nationals are thankful. Judging both from rankings compiled by industry publications and from the opinions of those within the game, Washington's minor league system is rich with pitching talent and lacking elsewhere. That's why Hood and Marrero stand out, and why the team is so heavily invested in each player's progress.

Marrero, a first baseman, endured a disappointing 2008. He started the year in Class A Potomac; he also started ice cold. Month by month he improved, batting .200 in April, .262 in May, .294 in June, but then in mid-June, just as Marrero was heating up, he broke his fibula while sliding into home plate. He needed surgery. He left behind an uneven picture: Progress, but not enough, and in the scouting world that counts as regression. Baseball America, before the 2008 season, had rated Marrero as the team's top prospect. A year later, he fell to No. 3.

That's why the spring -- and the upcoming season -- is so critical for Marrero. During the offseason, while working out at home in Miami, Marrero lost 10 pounds. Manager Manny Acta noted this week that Marrero looks better than he's ever seen him before.

"He's in the best shape I've seen him in the three years I've seen him here, and he's swinging the bat real good," Acta said. "It's a totally different body from what we saw last year in Potomac."

If Marrero, 20, impresses, he could start the year in Class AA Harrisburg. With Hood, 18, the Nationals are taking a more patient approach. ("That kid is just here to soak information and knowledge and stuff like that," Acta said. "I'm not going to make any predictions.")

The decision to draft Hood last year indicated the organization's willingness to take a risk -- and then pay for it. Hood, an outfielder, only fell into the second round because teams were wary of his options; you don't want to waste a high draft pick on a football player. The Nationals opted for Hood with the 55th overall pick only after their scouts vetted Hood's desires. Though he had already signed a letter-of-intent with the Crimson Tide, Hood made it clear: He preferred baseball. But he also made it clear that he wanted a signing bonus comparable with a player chosen in the first round.

When Hood agreed to terms, he received a $1.1-million signing bonus.

"I told Saban," Hood recalled. "But he was actually one of the guys who helped me with my decision. He never put pressure on me. I like him for that, and he's a good person."

At least until February, Hood kept an eye on what he missed. Two of his high school friends from Mobile, Ala., ended up playing at Alabama. The Tide won their first 12 games, taking an undefeated record into December. Hood attended several of the home games.

But now, his only link to his second sport is his number, 81. During the last week, he has taken batting practice and shagged outfield flies with a group that includes Adam Dunn. Last month, Baseball America projected Hood as the team's seventh-best prospect.

"It's still kind of weird," Hood said, "to think that I was in high school last year."

By Chico Harlan  |  February 24, 2009; 5:57 PM ET
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-- newposted --

Re: BA's Top 100:

I decided to dig into these rankings a little bit (had some free time today), particularly with regards to the position players.

* 61 out of the Top 100 are position players.
* 3 teams didn't place one person in these 61 position players: Nats, Tigers, Angels.
* 3 players of these 61 have yet to play one inning of minor league ball: #81 Brett Lawrie; #61 Dayan Viciedo; #12 Pedro Alvarez (I sort of understand listing Viciedo based on his years playing in Cuba, but how does Alvarez get ranked #12 when he hasn't played yet?!)
* 13 of the 61 had their first year of pro ball last year.
* 12 of the 61 position players are CATCHERS!!

One could make a strong case for Derek Norris to be listed in here. His numbers from last year:

Level: low-A
Age: 19
G/AB: 70/227
BA/OBP/SLG: .278/.444/.463
HR/RBI: 10/38
BB/SO: 63/56

Compare these to these ranked catchers:

Tyler Flowers
Ranking: #99
Level: high-A
Age: 22
G/AB: 122/413
BA/OBP/SLG: .288/.427/.494
HR/RBI: 17/88
BB/SO: 98/102

Wilson Ramos
Ranking: #71
Level: high-A
Age: 20
G/AB: 126/452
BA/OBP/SLG: .288/.346/.434
HR/RBI: 13/78
BB/SO: 37/103

Jason Castro
Ranking: #53
Level: low-A
Age: 21
G/AB: 39/138
BA/OBP/SLG: .275/.383/.384
HR/RBI: 2/12
BB/SO: 22/32

All of these catchers are older and are either at the same level as Norris, or is just one level away (and if you go back and look at what those two did at low-A you'll see that Norris still had better numbers then they did, even if they were older than Norris is in low-A).

Posted by: erocks33 | February 24, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

"[teams] should look for perhaps guys who hit fastballs, have high isolated power, but perhaps have trouble with breaking stuff. "

Yes, we're finally in a position of strength!

Posted by: Section506 | February 24, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

lemme guess. this is tomorrow's dead-tree article. it's good and all but, you know, that's all we get?

Posted by: NatsNut | February 24, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Nice piece Chico. These kids are going to be important -- either as future Nats or as bargaining chips to get a future player or two. 18 year old kids at major league spring training camp -- how envious am I?

Posted by: dfh123 | February 24, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse


Or maybe old posted. I'm getting senile in my old age. I'm so senile I don't even care whether soemone I never heard of is listed in BA's Top 100 prospects.....

Posted by: fischy | February 24, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

erocks - Nice focus on Norris. I agree that based on his raw numbers, an argument is there to be made. If he can make strides toward HAG (lo-A) or beyond this season, he'll definitely make a jump onto the '10 rankings.

Posted by: BinM | February 24, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

While I agree that Destin Hood might be a top hitter one day, how can Chico say that he and Chris Marrero are the team's top hitting prospects?

Hood has virtually no experience as a professional while Michael Burgess has hit .267-35-121 in 670 at-bats.

In 550 at-bats (a typical full season), Burgess' numbers would have looked like this: Ave:.267--2B:30--3B:7--HR:30--RBI:102 along with a .360 OBP and a .501 slugging percentage.

Hood may have more potential than Burgess - and that is questionable - but there is no way that he is above Michael Burgess on the team's minor league depth chart.

It's Marrero & Burgess, at least for this year.

Posted by: rushfari | February 24, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Both these younguns are 2+ years away. Perhaps if Marrero can keep the weight down, he might have a position other than 1B. Hood...another outfielder with promise.

Posted by: cokedispatch | February 24, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

John, you still out there?

from prior thread
teams with base stealing leadoff hitters should look for perhaps guys who hit fastballs, have high isolated power, but perhaps have trouble with breaking stuff.

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 24, 2009 5:59 PM

JiM: What about LMillz / Harris at #1, followed by either Dukes, Guzman, WMP(!), or even Flores(!!) at #2, depending on who the opposing SP is?

Posted by: BinM | February 24, 2009 6:51 PM

Posted by: BinM | February 24, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he's at Burger King.

BTW, new post up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 24, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

BinM - See prior post for a response (not from JiM, but tied back to the original article I summarized and JiM quoted).

Oh, and JiM - come tothink of it, Church would have been perfect.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 24, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the article! I like reading about Chris "Franchise" Marrero & the other prospects such as Hood

Posted by: PNatsFan | February 25, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

"It's still kind of weird," ..., "to think that I was in high school last year."

What "Smiley" said to Bowden and Rijo when he was actually NOT in HS!


Posted by: CALSGR8 | February 25, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

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