For the first time in his professional baseball career, Deven Marrero's ascent up the organizational ladder is in stasis. Marrero has no clear path to a spot in the major leagues with Xander Bogaerts manning shortstop for the foreseeable future and, as a result, has questionable value to the Red Sox as an asset, whether that's as a member of the team or as a trade chip down the line.
When the Red Sox drafted Marrero out of Arizona State in the first round of the 2012 draft, there was significant hope that he could develop beyond just a defense-only, one-dimensional shortstop at the major level. The optimism for such a development has largely faded. The most recent height for said hope came last offseason, when he tore the cover off the ball during the Arizona Fall League. But sample sizes of 58 at bats exist to disappoint. His production did not translate over to Pawtucket last season in 152 games, as Marrero hit just .256/.316/.344 in Triple-A as a 24-year-old. In addition, SoxProspects notes in their year-end review of Marrero that the difficulties at the plate seemingly transferred over to the field as well. "As Director of Scouting Ian Cundall wrote on June 23, Marrero seemed to lack focus in the field at times and made errors on some easy plays as a result. Perhaps this can be attributed to moving quickly up the minor league ladder in his career, and for the first time, he was spending extended time at one level without a clear path to a promotion."
The drop in defensive performance, however, isn't as concerning from a value standpoint given the unfamiliar situation Marrero found himself in last season. What will ultimately determine whether Marrero becomes Brendan Ryan 2.0 or a poor man's Brandon Crawford will come down to the bat and how it performs at the major league level.
Again, there are some signs for optimism when it comes to Marrero at the plate. During the Arizona Fall League, Marrero posted a slash line of .328/.443/.414, with the on-base jumping off the page as a major deviation for his career minor league OBP of .333. Yes, the sample size is small, but it came after a year which saw Marrero manage a line of .291/.371/.433 in 268 at bats in Portland. These stints suggest that there's some potential for Marrero as an on-base threat, but certainly provide no guarantees by any stretch of the imagination; given his career so far, Marrero's performance for Surprise and Portland stand as anomalies, the Landry and Tyra murder subplot of Friday Night Lights, the exception rather than the rule.
But ah, the virtue and value of versatility. When Marrero got a taste of the major leagues at the end of the season, the team began trying out Marrero around the diamond, with him seeing time at both second and third base. "We don’t want to cut anybody short," bench coach Torey Lovullo said in September. "He’s born and bred to be a shortstop and he transitioned to third and a little bit of second. We know that he’s a very, very accomplished infielder. He’s developed a comfort in the entire infield."
"Right now, it's hard to say what he would be. I don't want to set the bar at him being a utility guy because he's so good [defensively]. I think he'd be a front-line shortstop."
Everyone is looking for the next Ben Zobrist. And if they can't find a Zobrist, teams will settle for the next Brock Holt. The sort of player who can cover just about every position competently, while not representing a complete black hole in the lineup. Marrero's glove will give him an opportunity for teams that he could potentially be that type of player for. Whether or not that opportunity comes with the Red Sox is certainly questionable given the obstacles of Bogaerts and Holt. For now, Marrero likely starts the 2016 season as a member of the PawSox, and will find some time at other positions in case the Red Sox need him at a moment's notice. But at this point, Marrero is probably more valuable to another team than to Boston. How valuable he is to that other team, however, hinges almost entirely on whether or not he improves at the plate. Something he has struggled to do at the highest levels.