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NO JOY IN HOUSTON

[August 23rd] -- For the last week, we have been heaping so much praise on Wily Mo Pena that I was expecting the Hall Of Fame to begin working on his plaque this off season. We have seen the best of Wily Mo in the last few days - homers, hustle and defense. Last night, however, we saw the other side of Wily Mo, the side that we all knew would eventually show itself.

Swish. Swish. Swish.

Pena came to the plate late in the game with two runners on and two out and promptly struck out - the three pitches he missed he really missed.

Some teams - Like the Reds - have loaded up their lineup with guys who swing hard and either drive the ball a long way or strikeout. Often. Can you imagine an outfield of Adam Dunn, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns? Man, talk about your hit-or-miss players. Other teams would rather have players with less power but seldom strike out.

I fall in the latter category. I'd much rather have a contact hitter at the plate with two on and two out with the game on the line. A single ties the game; a double puts the Nats ahead. Most Nationals' fans have very fond memories of Alfonso Soriano and his long, impressive home runs into RFK's upper deck. What most of us have forgotten, however, are all those three-pitch strikeouts with runners on base and games on the line. He didn't win many more games than he did win for the Nationals.

That said, 'ol Austin Kearns took time out from striking out and popping up to whack one, didn't he? Since ending that long, long homerless draught, Kearns has actually played like a power-hitting corner outfielder. How's it possible for a professional athlete to NOT hit a homer for 150 or so at-bats, then hit one every 25 or 30 at-bats? Frank Howard drove me crazy that way. He hit ten homers in one week in 1968, then couldn't get a ball out of the outfield for two weeks. Kearns, like Howard, is Babe Ruth one week and my Aunt Ruth the next.

After his second prolonged slump in August (he battled back from the first), I thought that Chris Marrero had simply run out of gas. He's never played in more than 80 or 90 games in a season, so fatigue was likely the problem that caused his .325 batting average to slip all the way to .258. Or so I thought. After hitting a home run on Tuesday, Marrero went 3-5 last night to raise his average back to .265.

Marrero got some real love from the baseball God's yesterday. Ballparkguys.com reports that Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has named Marrero the second best corner outfielder. In all of the minor leagues. Says Goldstein:

"Marrero went into the 2006 season generally considered the best high school hitter in the country, but he pressed during his senior year and fell into the Nationals’ collective laps with the 15th overall pick. He has the skills to hit for average and power, but he lapses into bad habits at times still, becoming pull-happy when his natural power is more than enough to get a ball over the fence. A third baseman in high school, he’s made a decent transition to left, not that it takes much. Marrero got off to a great start following his promotion to the Carolina League, but he’s been in a month-long slump, which could be simply attributed to a player running out of gas in his first full season. The Nationals' system is looking better these days, and Marrero is one of the primary reasons why."

You know, I just have to wonder if Mr. Marrero is going to be replacing someone in the Nationals' outfield much sooner than we thought. There is no question that he's going to start next season at 'AA' Harrisburg, and if he plays as well next year as he did this year, he'll likely end the year at 'AAA' Columbus. If he's ready to play in D.C. in 2009, then someone is going to have to go.

I wonder who that would be ....


Comments:
Farid - Not sure where you saw this canonization of Wily Mo Pena. I think people we're intrigued by his power potential but well aware of the strikeouts that come as part of the package. The Nationals traded a Triple-A middle relief pitcher for a guy who could develop into a solid enough bottom of the order power source. In a system where there realistically are no near term OF power bats in the system. Marrero is still a few years away. He still needs time to develop defensively and rushing him to the majors would be foolhardy. He'll likely be playing in Double-A as a 19-year old (for most of the season), give him 2008 to continue developing ... maybe 2009 is a better target.
 
Brian, the 'canonization' was really a great many people extolling his virtues and forgetting his deficiencies (myself included). That we got him for (relatively) nothing seemed somehow to further enhance his talents. He might still end up a 30+ homer guy, but he's never going to keep his strikeouts at or near 100.

Regarding Marrero, it's been my experience that it's always best to be in a position in life that is just a little above what you can handle. You are forced to either cope and improve or fall by the wayside. Marrero continues to have a "field day" at the 'A' level, his recent struggles not withstanding. I would love to see him spend the last week of the season at Harrisburg. If nothing else, it would revitalize him and prepare him for next year.

As to 2009 being the target, that's what I (hopefully) said in my story. I just don't think that 'AAA' does very much to prepare players anymore; there are simply too many hangers-on there make it a developmental league. The only value I see for 'AAA' is for players who need at-bats, who otherwise would be on a major league bench.

That said, thanks for your post and as always, love your little corner of the internet.
 
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