Welcome back to the One Big Question series here at Over The Monster. For those who weren’t around for last year’s series or simply forgot what it entails — there’s a lot going on in the world today, so don’t be ashamed! — here’s a brief reminder. Every day, Monday through Friday, for the next eight weeks we’ll profile a new member of Red Sox 40-man roster. Rather than simply going through a simple profile of their overall game and what they offer the team, we’ll focus on the one question that could very well dictate how their season will go in 2018. In order to keep the order objective and avoid side conversations like ranking the players on the roster, we’ll go straight down the roster in alphabetical order by position. In other words, we’ll go by how things are ordered here. If you miss any editions or would like to look back on some of last year’s, you can see all of them here. Today, we’re looking at Deven Marrero.
The Question: Can Deven Marrero improve his bat to the point that his glove can provide the value it should?
As we’ve been doing for — oh I don’t know, six months? six years? six decades? — we’re going to stick with that last roster spot for the Red Sox. You know the battle by now. It’s the one between a whole bunch of flawed depth infielders who have some really fun qualities if everything is going right but, more likely than not, are probably just slightly above replacement players, if that. That’s not to say there’s not value in a player like this, of course, but rather that we’re (or maybe more accurately, I am) spending a lot of time on this spot. Brock Holt still seems like the favorite, but honestly that could just be me thinking he was the favorite heading into the offseason and there being nothing that has changed that position. Maybe I’m overrating that he was the favorite heading in. I don’t know! Tzu-Wei Lin is also in the mix, and perhaps even more in the mix than I had originally thought according to this piece from Sean McAdam. Then there’s Deven Marrero, who I’ve said probably should get the job because of the fact that he is out of minor-league options. For him, this decision is making the roster of being exposed to waivers and perhaps joining another organization. Whatever happens, some team — whether it be the Red Sox or another team looking at him on waivers — will have to decide if his bat can ever play up enough that it won’t cancel out the wonders he can do with the glove.
At this point, Marrero is in a similar position to the one Christian Vazquez found himself in heading into 2017. It’s not a perfect comparison, as most would agree that catcher defense is a more valuable commodity than what Marrero provides at shortstop and that Vazquez has always been seen as having more potential at the plate, though that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. Either way, Marrero is in the same boat as a player who has always had a superb glove but he’s paired it with a bat that has, at best, cancelled out the defensive work. Obviously, this is the type of role that can be used as a late-game defensive replacement, but that’s a role that is losing its spot in a league whose ever-expanding bullpens has led to ever-shrinking benches. Teams need more versatility than one strong skill from a player now. Marrero is exactly the type of player who could benefit from expanded rosters, but that’s not the world we live in at this point. So, if he’s going to play in this league, he’s going to need to get better at the plate.
Unfortunately for Marrero, and the Red Sox or another team that claims him if/when he makes it to waivers, there is a long way for him to go to be an adequate offensive player. He’s had 258 plate appearances across three major-league stints and in that time he’s hit .208/.259/.309, 53 percent worse than the league-average hitter by wRC+. He hasn’t been much better at Triple-A, either, as he’s hit just .227/.276/.304 over 1203 plate appearances in his career with Pawtucket. I think it goes without saying that this is just not going to cut it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t look much better in an admittedly small and meaningless spring training sample where he’s hitting .143/.226/.214.
Generally, this would be the point of a post where I’d start to dig a little bit deeper and find the one or two areas in which the player could improve. For Marrero, it would be quicker to look at where he’s already succeeding. And that’s.....uh...well I guess if I had to pick something it would be on balls in play. He’s been able to sustain batting averages on balls in play around .300 for the majority of his career, which is certainly something! Unfortunately, it’s undone by a lack of plate discipline that has only gotten worse as the pitching he’s faced has become more advanced, and he hasn’t been able to improve despite a long time in the high minors. He also has a stark lack of power that is unlikely to improve. So, if he is going to take a step forward at the plate, he’ll have to find a way to make more contact and lay off bad pitches to start drawing more walks and making more contact, and settling in as an above-average BABIP hitter wouldn’t hurt either. Of course, all of this is easier said than done and Marrero hasn’t shown the kind of pitch recognition to inspire much confidence in this regard.
The infielder’s supporters, in addition to pointing out just how good he is at defense (he’s really good in the field!), will point to how he was able to hit left-handed pitching in 2017. In fact, before Eduardo Nuñez was acquired there was a Rafael Devers/Marrero platoon in the plans at third base. Indeed, Marrero did hit .291/.344/.600 against in the majors lefties last year, but this was inflated by an unsustainable rate of fly balls leaving the yard — exactly a third of them, to be exact. It also came in only 61 plate appearances. Compare that to his career major-league OPS against lefties (.710) and that he posted an OPS of just .522 against southpaws in 2016, and all of a sudden you’re much less enthused. Maybe he did turn a corner against lefties last year — the ol’ eye test told me that he looked pretty solid — but the numbers and his track record would suggest that’s wishful thinking.
Despite the negativity in this post, I still think the Red Sox should hold on to Marrero for now just for the simply fact that the other competitors don’t offer a ton of upside either. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marrero was the worst of the trio, but in the end we’re talking about three replaceable players, and Marrero is the only one who can’t be kept unless he’s on the major-league roster. That being said, I ultimately wouldn’t be too upset if he wasn’t kept around because there just aren’t many signs that the bat is going to catch up with the glove at any point soon. Of course, this is the part where I mention that I also said that Christian Vazquez’ bat would never catch up to his glove and he was destined for a career as a backup. What I’m saying is that Marrero is ‘bout to break out in 2018.