April 9, 2015 at 10:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Throughout Deven Marrero’s career, he’s been known primarily for his glovework. Making spectacular plays at short look easy is his specialty, but Marrero is far from ready to concede that he is a glove-only player, and instead looking to build on recent signs that his bat may be coming to life.
Is this the year Marrero proves people wrong about his hitting? “That's what I want to do. I want to be more consistent with my bat and still improve on my defense,” the 24-year-old said earlier this week at media day for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
“We saw him have a lot of success in Double-A last year offensively, and did see some of that progress,” Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett said. “I think some of it has to do with being comfortable and being confident. It's no secret what he can do with the glove defensively. I think continuing to see that progress on the offensive side where he's doing the little things, having really competitive at-bats, having a grinding approach, but being able to do some damage as well. Those are things that I think would be on his goal list this year.”
After spending 19 games in Portland at the end of 2013, Marrero began the season there last year and put up strong offensive numbers, hitting .291/.371/.433 in 68 games before earning a promotion to Triple-A.
However, he scuffled for the majority of the 50 games he spent at Pawtucket following the promotion. His first 20 games in Triple-A were actually quite productive to the tune of a .320/.363/.400 slash line. But in the remaining 30 games, he hit just .135, pulling that line down to a .210/.260/.285 mark in his time with the club. Marrero improved on that only modestly in the playoffs, batting .212 in nine games en route to a Governors’ Cup championship for the team.
The front office, however, liked what they saw offensively from him towards the end of the season in Pawtucket, and sent him to the Arizona Fall League in the offseason to continue to improve on his consistency at the plate. The league is made up of some of the best upper-level prospects from across the game, and would present a difficult challenge.
“Going to the Fall League for Deven was a chance to lengthen [his season], get more reps under his belt at the end of a year that finished in Triple-A, as well as continue to work on offensive consistency,” Crockett said. “I think we saw that at the tail end of last season here in Pawtucket. Certainly we saw a good stretch of performance in Double-A and when he first got to [Pawtucket]. He kind of ran into some inconsistency for a large portion of the time he was in Pawtucket, and finished strong and into the playoffs. But to try to go to Arizona and continue that, and do it against really good competition in a different environment was our hope.”
And those hopes were fulfilled resoundingly, as Marrero hit .328/.443/.414 in 17 games.
“It was a lot of fun—playing with those players out there, all the great players and the future of the game,” Marrero said of his time on the Surprise Saguaros in Arizona. “Got to go back to my second home there in Arizona where I went to Arizona State.”
The most obvious difference in his numbers from the Fall League versus Pawtucket was a sharp rise in his walk rate. Throughout his career, plate discipline has been a relative strength, as Marrero walked in 11% of his career minor league plate appearances prior to his promotion to Pawtucket. But following the promotion, that number was almost half at 6% in Triple-A before rising drastically in the short time in Arizona to 15%.
“Getting on base is what you want to do, no matter if you walk or get a hit. Plate discipline is kind of a big deal for me because if you're swinging at strikes, that means you're putting good swings on balls,” Marrero said.
Crockett cautioned that looking at the numbers doesn’t tell the full story: “I think patience—or selectivity—is really important for everybody within our organization. It's something we regard highly. If you're swinging at better pitches to hit and laying off some of those that aren't pitches you can do anything with, then you're going to be more likely to have success.
“So I think in and of itself, the walk rate doesn't necessarily mean that there's a better hitter there, but I think they're often correlated, those two things. If you're being more selective then obviously it will lead to more pitches seen, also deeper counts and potentially walks. But also it should lead to the potential for more mistakes from a pitcher.”
In major league camp this spring, Marrero was able to carry over that improved plate discipline to both walk and hit balls hard. He played regularly in major league games and finished up his time in the Grapefruit League with a line of .328/.400/.414, including a home run, in 18 games.
Crockett did not see all of Marrero’s time in major league camp in person, focusing on minor league camp himself, but liked what he did see offensively.
“I know there were some positive adjustments made, I know he felt really good about himself offensively and about his swing, and about some of the consistency we saw in major league camp,” Crockett said. “It's a small sample, but I think there were some strides made, some carryover from the end of last season to the fall league and he brought that momentum into camp.”
Coming into this year, Marrero is much more comfortable with his surroundings in Pawtucket. Having moved pretty quickly through the minor league system due to his glove, this may be a year where he can solidify his gains and finally establish his bat by being able to spend an extended time in one place.
“I'm here playing with these guys I've already played with my whole career,” the 2012 first-round pick said. “And getting used to the city last year, and the stadium, and the competition, teams that we play, just got a little feel for that, so this year I know what they're trying to do. I'm a lot more comfortable.”
“They are all great pitchers here, and most of them have been in the big leagues. They all know how to pitch: they all have stuff and know how to control their stuff.”
As for what the team is looking for out of Marrero at the plate this season, Crockett expounded, “Getting really comfortable with the approach and mechanics that he has at the plate, and staying really consistent with those pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, and then also over a period of time. I think he's in a good place right now with what he's doing at the plate, and just being consistent with that no matter what the results are immediately.”
Marrero’s name came up in several trade rumors this offseason, and with a crowded major league infield for the foreseeable future and other prospects on the rise, it will likely not be the last time. He’s tried to keep his head down and focus on what he can control.
“I work on how I play, how I can make this team better. All that stuff will take care of itself, it always does. If you're just worried about the way that you play and the way you handle yourself—not looking at the future, only worried about the present—then everything else will take care of itself,” he said.
“It's good that someone's talking about you [but] I just worked hard this offseason, that's all I really worried about. I didn't care where I landed—I wanted to be with Boston and this is a place that I love. They drafted me and my dream is to come up with them and play for that city.”
Photo credit: Deven Marrero by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.