On Pro Baseball
---- — It’s been nearly nine years since the Boston Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and they still have been unsuccessful in either developing or acquiring another reliable longterm shortstop.
The Red Sox have had seven different Opening Day shortstops over the past nine seasons.
But things might be changing. Three of the top 10 Red Sox prospects, ranked by Baseball America, are shortstops. They are Xander Bogaerts (top ranked), Jose Iglesias (9th) and Deven Marrero (10th).
You’ve seen the 23-year-old Iglesias’ stellar defense but questionable offense during stints with Boston.
You’ve probably read here and elsewhere about the 20-year-old Bogaerts’ explosive swing at Double-A Portland. Baseball America ranked Bogaerts the game’s eighth best prospect but he still must improve his defense and there are questions whether he could outgrow the position.
And then there is Marrero, who you’ve probably read and heard little about.
Marrero, Boston’s first-round pick (24th overall) last June, is an intriguing solution at shortstop. He is considered an above average defender and has been developing a more disciplined offensive approach since entering pro ball.
He doesn’t play defense as well as Iglesias or slug like Bogaerts but his overall game arguably is best of the three.
Here’s one possible scenario, especially if Iglesias’ offense never develops.
Bogaerts wins the starting shortstop job next year, then moves to third base or a corner outfield position when Marrero is ready to assume the starting shortstop position.
The 6-1, 195-pound right-handed hitting Marrero is batting .294 with a .400 on-base percentage in 51 at-bats for the Single-A Salem Red Sox. Right now, he’s on the seven-day disabled list with a hamstring injury.
“I try to hit the ball straight up the middle,” Marrero said by phone Thursday. “I can pull the ball and can take the ball to all fields, but I’m kind of a doubles guy. Just get on base for the guys behind me to drive me in. Really that’s my game: to get on base and to hit balls into the gaps.”
The 22-year-old Marrero played his college ball at Arizona State, the same program where Dustin Pedroia played.
He said he has changed his plate approach since college with the help of Nelson Paulino, his hitting coach with Salem who was with him in Lowell last year, too. In college, Marrero was more of a free swinger.
“The past two years, working with Paulino, it’s more of just keeping it simple and working up the middle,” he said. “Just trying to hit the ball right up the middle and to be aggressive but under control.
“That’s the biggest thing they’ve tried to work on with me is being aggressive but under control for my pitch — not swinging at the pitcher’s pitch but just trying to get my pitch and not missing pitch in that at-bat,” Marrero added.
Eight of Marrero’s 15 hits this season have been doubles. Batting second in the lineup, he has scored nine runs, third most on Salem entering Thursday.
Baseball America’s evaluation of Marrero from October 2012 stated that he “reads balls well and has fluid actions at shortstop, with the above-average range and arm strength to make all the plays.”
His scouting reports also noted: “He isn’t in Iglesias’ class defensively, but Marrero is a plus defender with much more offensive upside. Those two represent Boston’s future at shortstop if Xander Bogaerts outgrows the position.”
Marrero has enjoyed playing defense since he was a kid.
“I practice my defense as much as I practice my hitting,” he said. “I think defense is just as important. ... You’ve got have the pitcher know that you’ve got his back and that you’ll handle every ball hit to you.”
Marrero has a great deal of confidence, too. He seems to be gritty and outspoken like Pedroia. When he visited Fenway Park after signing last year, he said he was trying to “one-up” Pedroia.
Marrero also told Pedroia that he himself was the best shortstop in Arizona State history — despite that Pedroia also played shortstop at ASU.
Marrero hit .325 with 37 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 95 RBIs, 102 runs, 45 walks and 32 stolen bases in 150 career college games. The shortstop worked out and hit this past offseason with a group that included Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer, his high school teammate.
“When he’s comfortable with his surroundings, people tend to feed off him,” Hosmer said. “He’s a guy who was out at Arizona State for three years and learned a lot from who was on his team.
“And then his sophomore year, all those guys left and it was his job to lead that team and he did a great job — a guy coming from Miami going to the opposite coast. The way he’s been able to lead guys on and off the field is a big plus.”