The Cleveland Indians enjoyed the services of switch-hitting dynamo Victor Martinez until his trade to Boston last summer. Soon enough, another power-hitting backstop who takes cuts from both sides of the plate (Carlos Santana) figures to pick up where V-Mart left off.
Until then, Lou Marson will try to establish himself as more than just Santana’s placeholder. The 23 year-old came to Cleveland from Philadelphia in last July’s Cliff Lee trade, along with INF Jason Donald, RHP Carlos Carrasco and RHP Jason Knapp.
Philly’s 4th-round pick in the 2004 draft, Marson was a premium high school quarterback prospect in Arizona. He broke his collarbone as a senior, however, and decided to focus on baseball.
The 6-1, 200 pound righty batter didn’t light up the box scores in the Gulf Coast League in 2004 (.257/.333/.389 in 126 PA) or the Short Season New York-Penn League in 2005 (.245/.329/.391 in 252 PA). Still, Marson controlled the strike zone (10.6 BB%, 18.5 K% between the two stops), and Baseball America said he was capable of becoming “an intelligent, dependable receiver with an above-average arm and solid power.”
It was more of the same in Marson’s 2006 full-season debut. He hit a mild .243/.343/.351 in 410 PA in the Low-A South Atlantic League. While he showed little pop (.109 ISO) and his K rate crept up (23.4 K%), Marson drew walks at a 12.3% clip. That advanced eye, coupled with Marson’s blossoming receiving skills, led BA to gradually nudge him up Philly’s prospect list (27 in 2005, 23 in 2006, 19 in 2007). However, there were holes in his offensive game: “his swing can become very long at times, and breaking balls give him fits.”
In 2007, Marson made significant progress at the plate in the High-A Florida State League. Batting .288/.373/.407 in 457 PA, he maintained a patient approach (11.7 BB%) while paring down his whiff rate (20.4 K%) and lacing a few more extra-base hits (.120 ISO). Marson moved up to 8th in the Phillies farm system prior to the 2008 season. BA noted a shift in hitting philosophy: he “shortened his swing and developed a much more consistent two-strike approach.”
Bumped up to AA Eastern League in 2008, Marson did nothing to dent his improved prospect status. He hit .314/.433/.416 in 395 PA, taking a free pass a whopping 17.4% of the time and punching out 21.7%. Marson’s ISO (.102) was down somewhat, and a .389 BABIP no doubt played a big role in the batting average spike. Even so, he earned a September call-up and climbed to third on Philly’s list of farm products before the 2009 campaign. Though they considered his power ceiling low, Baseball America lauded Marson’s advanced plate discipline and “professional approach.”
Marson actually spent much of April in the majors in 2009, helping to fill in for a banged-up Carlos Ruiz. He was sent to the AAA International League once “Chooch” was healthy. In 241 PA with Lehigh Valley, Marson posted a .294/.382/.370 triple-slash, with a 12.4 BB%, a 19 percent K rate and a .076 ISO.
After the Lee swap, Marson was sent to AAA Columbus, where he batted a bland .243/.319/.340 in 116 PA. He walked 8.8%, whiffed 18.4% and had a .097 ISO. Lou’s overall AAA line in ’09 was .277/.361/.360. Marson got some starts in Cleveland in September. In 72 total big league PA between the Indians and Phillies, he hit .246/.347/.361, with a 14.4 BB%, 34.4 K%, and a .115 ISO.
Kelly Shoppach is now a Tampa Bay Ray. Santana thrashed AA pitching last year (.290/.413/.530), but he underwent surgery to remove a broken hamate bone in his right hand in December. The needed recovery time might push back Santana’s major league ETA, and he’ll likely open 2010 with Columbus. The only other catcher on the 40-man roster is 27 year-old Wyatt Toregas.
As such, Marson has a short window to avoid being cast as a backup at the major league level. He’s definitely not going to hold off Santana’s impact bat for long, and perhaps Cleveland will prefer to keep Marson as a capable second-string option. But he could become trade bait again if he shows promise.
CHONE has Marson hitting .255/.342/.349 in 2010, while ZiPS envisions a .247/.338/.325 line. He reminds me of Cincinnati’s Ryan Hanigan (good eye, little power), though he doesn’t have Hanigan’s contact skills. Marson has a shot at being a starting catcher in some other city later on, but he may be best utilized as Santana’s caddy in the long term.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.