Travis Snider and Chris Marrero are considered to be two of the best young hitters in the minors, and they both top their respective teams prospect rankings lists. Snider was taken with the #15 pick in the 2006 draft, while Marrero was taken #16. They both hit for power and have posted good averages thus far, and generally they are ranked in the top 50 of various prospect rankings, with Snider usually coming in a few spots ahead of Marrero. They've both been compared to various big league sluggers, both play outfield positions, and both have good projectability. The only real question is which one is better?
I've been thinking about this one for a long time, and I've finally made up my mind about it. I looked at it from just about every angle I could think of, and spent a lot of time finding comparable players and making adjustments in projections based off of various factors. At first I went with Snider, then I decided Marrero was better, and then I started all over because I couldn't make up my mind. But now I'm ready to declare a winner, so let's get to the good stuff. First, I'll quickly summarize what I like and dislike about each, then I'll declare a winner and explain my reasoning.
This guy can flat out hit. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip to show his swing from the front, but you can get a general sense of Snider's balance and swing type from the clip above. Without seeing his hands, I can't say too much about his mechanics, but his .325 average in rookie ball and .313 average at A ball tell me he does a pretty good job at the plate. I've read a lot of comments about Snider being a complete hitter, and if you mix his power numbers with his contact ability, I would tend to agree. In 748 minor league plate appearances, he has 27 home runs and 47 doubles, not to mention a healthy 8 triples. He also hits to all fields well, with a tendency to hit up the middle with power.
There's a lot of things I like about Snider, but I also have some hesitancies about his future. He's not real athletic looking, and he has a bulky frame that kind of reminds me of Prince Fielder which is a good thing and a bad thing. His size produces a lot of his power, but it could shorten his career and relinquish him to DH duty early. His outfield skills are pretty bad, and that could really decrease his value as well. He also strikes out a lot, at about a 25% clip, and he got caught stealing 10 times this year, with only 3 successful attempts. For a 19 year old with his talent, those are all concerns that could be overlooked, but I think they are worth taking into consideration.
Once again, I can't find a good clip for Marrero, so I can't say much about his mechanics. Like Snider, Marrero is a big guy, but at 6'5" he's several inches taller and much more athletically built. In 612 plate appearances spanning rookie ball, A ball and A+ ball, Marrero has 34 doubles, 3 triples and 23 homeruns, which puts him on pace with Snider in terms of power. His average is lower than Snider's, but he still makes consistent contact, and I think his plate discipline is pretty good for his age.
Marrero is already drawing comparisons to some well established big league hitters like Albert Pujols, however I would have to argue that Marrero is really not that similar to Pujols, but much more like a Mark McGwire or Jim Thome type. He has a decent strikeout rate of about 15-20%, but between his low walk rates and his tendency to hit a lot of ground balls, he could frequently suffer from low BABIPs like he did this past year in A+ ball. His playing time will always be limited to the outfield, but I think he'll have a longer career than Snider and should rarely have to worry about playing time with the Nationals.
So, now that we've covered the basics, who is the better prospect? Do we go with the more developed hitter in Snider, or do we go with the more athletic Marrero? In my opinion, Marrero is the obvious choice. At first it didn't seem so obvious, and I really didn't know which one to go with, but after breaking it down and looking more closely at the numbers, Marrero stood out above Snider in every possible category. Snider might have a better average, but he is about 6 months older than Marrero, and while Snider spent the whole 2007 season at A ball, Marrero was called up and spent half the year in A+ ball. Before his call-up, Marrero obliterated A ball pitching, while it took Snider almost the whole season before he finally went on a tear and put up numbers similar to what Marrero had done in A ball. Had they both stayed in A ball for the entire season, there would be no debate about who was better, and Marrero would be ahead of Snider on every prospect list. To better illustrate my point, here are both players numbers from their minor league careers:
Rookie Ball numbers are always a little bit skewed, so I won't spend any time considering their significance in this debate. I'd like to focus on examining the similarities and differences between Marrero's time in A ball and Snider's time in A ball, as I think those numbers can tell us a lot about what each hitter is capable of.
During his time at A ball, Marrero was 18 years old and didn't turn 19 until he was in A+ ball in July, while Snider spent his entire time in A ball as a 19 year old. Up until August, Snider did not have a month as good as Marrero had in June, and Snider never came close to the numbers Marrero posted in May. Essentially, at 18 years old and 10 months Marrero was better than Snider was the entire time he played as a 19 year old. It doesn't sound significant, but it puts Marrero on a development curve that is about a year ahead of Snider, meaning that Marrero's developmental trajectory is much steeper and much more impressive. His numbers in June alone were superb, but his May numbers rank up there as some of the most impressive numbers I've seen put up by an 18 year old in a while.
If we extend Marrero's numbers from A ball out to match up with Snider's PA total in 2007, then Marrero would have ended up with about 30 home runs and 30 doubles, and an ISOP significantly higher than Snider's. Like I said before, if Marrero had stayed in A ball, those 30 home runs and that extremely high ISOP would have landed him well above Snider on any prospect list, but the Nationals were well aware of Marrero's development and appropriately called him up to A+ ball. Up until August, Snider had not had the production that Marrero had in any category, and that has been over looked by a lot of people.
Since I feel that Marrero is by far the better prospect, I'll provide a few comparables for Snider and then devote the remainder of this post to talk about what I think Marrero is capable of. All of the players provided for Snider comparisons were 19 years old at A ball.
Just by looking at these comparables, it becomes fairly obvious where Snider fits in. He doesn't have the raw power of Fielder, Walker or Marrero, and his poor plate discipline only makes matters worse. He's also not as athletic as Wright, so really I would rank him well behind all of those hitters in terms of potential. Snider is a solid line drive hitter, but I think his strike out rate will be his downfall at higher levels, and he won't make the same kind of contact, resulting in a lower average and stagnant power numbers. Long term, I think he's probably good for a .270 average and a few 35+ home run years in his prime, but he won't be very productive before the age of 24 or 25. Think Joey Votto.
As for Marrero, I think his ceiling is much higher than Snider and his stats place him in some very promising company.
I put Jose Canseco on the list just for fun since both Canseco and Marrero are of Cuban descent, but they have some similarities beyond that. Pre-steroids Canseco was about 6'4" in the minors and he probably matched up to Marrero pretty well in terms of strength and power. Even without the aid of steroids, I think Canseco would have been capable of 30+ home runs early in his career, but the 40/40 thing might have been a stretch. Anyways, Marrero doesn't have quite the same power as Andruw Jones, but his plate discipline and power numbers compare well with everyone else on that list. He's taller than Jones, so I think he could eventually match Jones' power numbers, and he's more athletic than Butler, so I might rank Marrero just behind Jones and Upton, and in front of Canseco and Butler. In his prime I think he'll have a few 40+ home run seasons and post averages in the .290-.300 area, and he should reach 30 home runs by the age of 23, or maybe 24 at the latest.
Going back to Marrero's A ball numbers, he exhibited some very impressive power numbers that some might feel disappeared when he went to A+ ball. I was concerned about this when I first started looking closely at Marrero, but I really don't think it's a big deal. Like all young hitters, Marrero experienced an adjustment period when he moved up, and the same thing occurred when he started rookie ball and A ball. His first 100 plate appearances were mediocre, but after that he was back to his previous power numbers. In June he posted an ISOP of .042, but averaged an ISOP over .200 for his final 200 plate appearances. Marrero has consistently shown an ability to adjust quickly to more talented competition, and I think that will continue to be the case as he moves up towards the majors.
With Snider I feel like we've already seen the height of his potential, whereas with Marrero I think we're just beginning to see what he's capable of. He's not going to be the next Albert Pujols, but he'll make a very good outfielder or first baseman who hits for good power numbers and can contribute early with his approach at the plate. I'm still concerned about his ground ball percentages, but I think those will improve as he gets more experience. Until then, his average will stay relatively low, but I don't think it will be a significant hindrance to his progression.