In 2010, the Nationals took a chance on a large right-handed first baseman/outfielder without a lot of success in the majors. His minor-league numbers weren’t all that impressive, either, and they explained the high-strikeout, low-walk numbers in the majors. But he showed them something in the spring, and he followed that up with a nice run in Triple-A. He was a revelation when he was called up for good, and the next year, he finished with 31 homers and a smattering of down-ballot MVP votes.
And that young man’s name was ... Michael Morse.
In the past, I think this article would have been easy to write. Look at the vast evidence on one side, look at the meager evidence from this March, and make a decision based on sample sizes. It wouldn’t have needed 1,000 words, but by gum, I would have found them.
Now, however, I would like to report that I’ve seen some stuff, man. One minute Eduardo Nuñez is a no-name utility infielder for the Yankees, and the next minute he’s an All-Star. The minute after that, he was costing a win-now team an actual prospect and becoming part of their plans for the next season. These stories aren’t the norm, but they aren’t exactly Radiohead albums, either, showing up every four or five years and disappearing again.
Which brings us to Chris Marrero. He’s hit well enough in the minors, but he hasn’t exactly been dominant (.284/.344/.494 last year in Triple-A). He’s 28, and he plays first and left field, neither of them very well. Expectations should be tempered.
However, Marrero would be a fine right-handed complement for Jarrett Parker, even though he doesn’t show strong platoon splits, so he’s not exactly a lefty-masher. Most importantly for his chances to make this roster, he’s raking in the spring, with seven homers (and one in a game that didn’t count in the official stats, against Puerto Rico).
Without the strong spring, Marrero still fits the key description for what the Giants are looking for with their fourth outfielder. He’s right-handed and he has a little power. Sold.
With the strong spring, though, he’s capturing the imagination of Giants fans, who are wondering if he’s their version of Michael Morse. Which means he’ll leave in four years and his new team will beat the Giants in the NLDS and help them win the pennant before getting the World Series-winning RBI? But at least there would be sweet dingers until then.
How much can we trust the spring stats, though? My gut says, “Not a lot,” but my brain says, “Look at the pitchers he hit the homers off, and see if they’re major leaguers, your gut is a drunk and a liar.”
Home run #1
This homer came in the first game of the spring, off Kevin Shackelford, a 27-year-old reliever who has made 25 appearances above Double-A, with a career K/9 of 5.7.
Home run #2
This one was off Brooks Pounders, who was generated by the computer. Pounders made his major league debut last year as a 25-year-old, and he gave up 13 runs in 12⅔ innings. He’s been a highly regarded prospect in the past, though, and it looks like his strikeout rate has jumped with a full-time conversion to the bullpen.
Also of note: I would shriek like there was a bee in the car if any of these pitchers threw a fastball within four feet of me, so I’m not trying to minimize their talents or the difficulty of what Marrero did. But we’re two homers in, and neither one came off a proven major leaguer.
Home run #3
This was served up by Grant Dayton, name thief and breakout bullpen star for the Dodgers last year. He’s a left-hander with gross stuff that misses bats. If you wanted a homer that included some foreshadowing, this would be a fine one. It’s exactly the kind of matchup the Giants would want to see at one point.
Home run #3.5
This came off “E. Pagan,” who was pitching for Puerto Rico, so I’ll just assume this is Angel Pagan’s alter-ego, Estrellacara and move on.
Fine, it’s Emilio Pagan, a 25-year-old with a high strikeout rate and good raw numbers in the minors. Still, he’s never pitched in the majors.
Home run #4
Jonathan Aro, whose creator accidentally hit “enter” before he meant to, gave this one up. Aro is a 26-year-old with 11 innings in the majors and middling numbers in the minors.
Home run #5
Marrero hit this homer off Jose Torres, a left-handed prospect for the Padres with stuff and limited command. I’m not sure if Torres is a candidate for a larger role in the majors this year, but he seems to be on something of a fast track. Like Dayton, this would also be a matchup that is reasonable to expect at some point during the season.
Home run #6
This homer was hit off Jairo Diaz (hold your Jairo jokes until the end, please), who missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery, but was previously a promising relief prospect for the Rockies. If Marrero is going to hit dingers off young pitchers, at least they’re coming out of the NL West.
Home run #7
For his final homer of the spring (thus far), Marrero hit one off Pierce Johnson, a former Cubs prospect who had an absolutely miserable year in Triple-A last year.
Now, the conclusion to take away isn’t that Marrero is awful or that he stinks or that he’s hitting garbage-time spring homers against garbage-time spring pitchers. That was the whole point of the Morse comp up there. Sometimes a hitter — especially one with an extensive prospect pedigree like Marrero’s — figures it out late. I trust the Giants to make decisions with their eyes more than the stats, and if they like what they see from Marrero, hey, do your thing, front office.
The conclusion, though, is that a shiny home run total in March means about as much as it ever has: very little. Just one of Marrero’s home runs came off a pitcher who is expected to be a key component of his team’s 25-man roster.
In other words ...
DO: Root for Marrero to make the team if you think his right-handed power and general skill set makes him a good complement to Jarrett Parker. I think a reasonable comp would be Brett Pill with more outfield experience, but maybe that’s selling him short. I wasn’t watching Jae-gyun Hwang in outfield drills, so this would be a reasonable choice if the Giants want a proven-ish outfielder until Hwang gets more outfield inning in Sacramento.
DON’T: Root for Marrero because he’s hit a bunch of homers in the Cactus League against pitchers who might combine for 20 major league innings this year when you take Grant Dayton out of the mix. Marrero would pay late in spring games, which means he would face mostly pitchers who aren’t likely to pitch in the majors this year.
I’m not against Marrero surprising his way onto the Opening Day roster. Just keep the expectations reasonable, and don’t let his spring color your decisions too much. He just might be the next Michael Morse, which would be a revelation. Until then, just assume he’s Chris Marrero, which is the player the Giants invited to camp in the first place.