Sep 7th, 2009
By John Norris
The playoffs are set now. Jacksonville clinched the second half with one game in the regular season to go. Dropping 4 out of 5 to them back at the end of July proved to be the back breaker I thought it would end up being. Birmingham and Jacksonville are the marquee franchises in the Southern League, especially this year. Top two in attendance, the two best records overall, Birmingham is 26-9 at home in the second half and Jacksonville is 25-9 on the road in the same time. Something will have to give in the series. The good news for the Barons is that Jacksonville is only hitting .248 as a team. The Barons also stayed sharp in the last 9 games, taking 7 in a row to keep the pressure on Jacksonville. Lee Cruz came up huge for the Barons hitting .303 with 10 hits, 3 home runs and 9 RBI over his last 10 games. More good news, Charlie Shirek and Justin Cassel appear to be available to start in the playoffs. The first round series begins this Thursday night, hopefully a week from now I’ll be talking about the chances of the Barons in the Southern League championship series.
As you all know, I’ve been raving a lot about Barons 1B/OF Christian Marrero ever since he was promoted to Birmingham in mid-June. I’ve even stated that I think he’s going to be a top 5 prospect. I certainly will place him in the top 5 in my postseason top 25 prospect list. Even though he was placed on the DL last week with from what he told me was a left shoulder issue, he’s had one hell of a season.
He definitely impressed me early when he drove the first AA pitch he saw off the scoreboard in right center at Regions Park. I can’t really think of anybody to compare him to, but I can say with confidence that there are few negatives about him. The only negative I’ve been made aware of is how he’s struggled against lefties. He’s only hitting .268 against lefties, but that’s only in 56 at-bats with Birmingham. He only has 29 BB on the season, but when you have 140 hits in 127 games, you’re not up there expected to draw walks. He became the 3 hitter for the Barons over the last month of the season. He dramatically improved on his power numbers from Kannapolis in 2008, hitting 35 points higher, hitting 8 more home runs, driving in 13 more runs and increasing his slugging percentage and OPS. His walk rate dropped and he didn’t steal close to as many bases though.
The Miami native is listed as 6′1″ and 185, but I’d say he’s about 15 pounds heavier than that. His lower body is where he generates most of his torque as he has big, strong legs. He has time to fill out his upper body as he’s just barely 23. He hits the ball hard to all fields, which is what has lead to his .308 average this year. The ball he hit that fractured the skull of Montgomery pitcher Darin Downs was probably going 120 MPH. His home run power is mostly to right and occasionally to right center. His homers are usually high and majestic ones. He doesn’t hit the ball on the ground a lot, his singles are usually lofted over the infielders. Although he only has 30 doubles on the year, I think he’s more than capable of hitting 40 or more. The positives I can draw from that are that he can add to his power numbers and not hit into double plays much. Outfielders have to shade him especially to right field because he usually yanks the ball down that foul line. He’ll learn to take the ball the other way and take advantage of the open space in left field. His swing is a touch long, but that’s to be expected from a left-handed hitter. Nothing to be concerned about though. Long term, I think his numbers from this year are more indicative of what he’s capable of.
Defensively, he has been very good. With the Barons, he’s split his time between 1B and RF. In his time with Winston-Salem, he played a lot of LF. I’d say that RF is his best position, that way he can maximize his cannon for an arm. He covers enough ground to play both corners, and could possibly play CF in a pinch. He is adequate at 1B, not a liability. I’m not sure where he profiles long term, but I don’t think he has to be pegged at one spot necessarily. His versatility makes him more valuable.
Although I think he will at least spend half of 2010 in Birmingham, he has the talent, the ceiling, the same pedigree that he shares with his younger brother Christopher (a former first round pick of the Nationals), the good character and fan friendliness along with his thick Cuban accent, to be a great ballplayer. Hopefully he’ll be activated from the DL for the playoffs.
Requests for next week can be made at Soxtalk. If the Barons fall short in the first round, the next installment of JPNese will be my “walk off” edition for 2009.