Every sport has players that are classified as ‘bigger than the game’ or ‘larger than life’, whether that is measured in physical stature or personality, the classification generally rings true. Listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds Seattle Mariners versatile prospect Jack Marder will not win on physical stature, but never overlook his personality. If he gives you the chance.
“I think everybody in baseball would want a Jack Marder on their team and he definitely rubs off on everybody, coaches included,” said former High Desert Mavericks manager Pedro Grifol. “If you watch him play every night, everything he does is for the team and when you have that and you have ability, you get a winning player.”
Of course, calling an individual a winner is far from putting your neck on the line in this case. Making the jump from college to Advanced-A, the 22-year-old didn’t miss a beat, hitting .352 in his first 83 professional games. He took the field at second base, left field and catcher for the High Desert Mavericks during his most recent season, the majority of that time coming at second base. Marder would joke of his ability to contribute on a different level if asked, “I’d be a left-handed pitcher if that’s what they needed.”
What the team has asked the versatile second year player to do is step away from the plate and concentrate on contributing from the field of play. Following the conclusion of the 2012 season Seattle Mariners Minor League Field Coordinator Jack Howell said of Marder, “At this point he’s going to leave catching behind. Jack loves catching, but he understands the decision.” This decision was in part weighed by two instances of post-concussion like symptoms after taking foul balls off his mask, serving two separate stints on the disabled list. Howell would continue, “The organization’s plan is to have him work in at second base, third base and the outfield exclusively now.”
Second base is a position the Seattle Mariners always saw Marder’s hustle playing well into the Major Leagues. Upon being drafted he was asked by Scouting Director Tom McNamara of his experience playing second base, Marder said: “I lied and told him that I’d played it all my life. I played it like once in college and a little in high school. So I put the work in and learned to be a second baseman.”
This is the manor of learning curve Marder has employed throughout his career, stating in a previous interview with SeattleClubhouse that he learned to play catcher, “based off of watching how Yadier Molina did it on TV.” His methods may be non-traditional, but as Howell notes, “He’s a real gamer.” And you can’t argue with the results.
Marder was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 16th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft after posting two seasons of .232 baseball at the University of Oregon over 336 at-bats. That amount nearly equals the 349 at-bats Marder has accrued with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League, hitting .120 points higher through his professional appearances. The California League may be hitter friendly but Marder’s success is as due in part to his hard working mentality as the park factors that accompany High Desert.
Amid the injuries spoken of above and being assigned new defensive priorities for the second consecutive season, Marder took his impressive inaugural campaign of 2011 to new heights in 2012. Taking the field in 47 additional games above 2011, his bat produced on a scale five times higher in many offensive categories.
Being 5-foot-11 and playing the game with the level of intensity that he does, Marder likens his approach to other equal framed Major League players such as Craig Biggio and Brett Butler, saying, “I'll be one of those guys that will just find any possible way to beat you like those guys.”
Thus far he has lived up to his word. The fiery second baseman was 4th in the California League with 13 HBP (hit-by-pitch) recorded and at season’s end would trail fellow California Leaguer and Cincinnati Reds on-base leader, Billy Hamilton, in BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) by a mere .010 points; finishing the season at .396.
Playing alongside the 22-year-old in High Desert was eventual Seattle Mariners Minor League Player of the Year, Stefen Romero. Although his season would take him to Double-A Jackson, his statistics within the California League shaped his award winning campaign. If only by reputation, you might be surprised by the statistical similarities the 6-foot-3, 215 pound infielder and the aforementioned Marder shared in High Desert this past season.
While the amount of hits can be deceiving, it should be noted that Marder (.360/.425/.583/1.008) bested Romero (.357/.391/.581/.973) in all California League slash-line categories. While Romero undoubtedly earned his Player of the Year honor, Marder has placed himself one healthy season away from being an all-around contributor with the bat, breaking away from previous classifications as a top of the order scrapper.
Let’s take a look at how the versatile rising star achieved the numbers he posted.
Despite limited playing time in 2011, Marder impressed in his transition to professional baseball, hitting .324 and reaching base 30 times in a short period of time (18 games). While just as an impressive in 2012, Marder’s sizable step forward in offensive production would have less to do with getting on-base and more to relate to the base he was standing on. Spanning 71 plate appearances in 2011, Jack averaged an extra-base-hit every 8.9 trips to the plate, hitting six doubles and two home runs. Over 278 plate appearances in 2012 that ratio would fall to 7.3 as his XBH total increased to 38. Of note in this statistic were his 24 doubles, an equal amount seen by fellow Mavericks Steven Proscia, Mario Martinez, and Mike McGee during the season, each spanning 400+ plate appearances.
Accompanying his sharp rise in XBH was an increase in OFB% (Outfield Fly Balls) of 8.7% from the previous season. In maintaining a similar HR/OFB (Home Runs/Outfield Fly Balls) over both seasons (11.8% in 2011, 11.5% in 2012) Marder finished the season sending 4.2% of baseballs hit over the wall, as opposed to 3.4% in 2011. Such a miniscule number, 0.8%, may not seem like a sizable factor but over 650 plate appearances it is the difference between 22 home runs and 27.
You can be skeptical of his season moving forward, I might be if I wasn't so familiar with his past, but let me give you a few reasons why 2012 showcased the true offensive upside of Marder. Baseball is hesitant to slap home run labels on a player of his hustle and versatility. An article from Baseball Prospect Report prior to the 2011 draft profiles Marder as, “A potential gold glove catcher with 20 home-run right handed power.” This follows a nearly power-less stint with the University of Oregon, hitting just seven home runs over two seasons.
His ability to hit for power was no hidden talent; his frame just misleads those who didn’t look close enough. You know who had a very similar height and weight to Marder? Hank Aaron. Now, no one is comparing Marder to Aaron as a player, just an observation that not all players who have extra base power are built like steroid-era sluggers. This is described no better than during his 2010 NCAA season. Gerrit Cole, future 1st round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was on his way to what most analysts expected would be the 1st pick overall as he blew away college hitters with his fastball at UCLA. I have heard this on three separate occasions and I will quote it from Baseball Prospect Report, “Marder was the only hitter I saw who had the hand speed to be able to pull his hands in and whip the barrel through against Cole’s mid-90s heavy heat.”
Not bad for a top of the order scrapper.
To compliment his spike in production, an additional area where his game excelled in 2012 was in LHP/RHP splits. While his success in 2011 was relatable to his statistics against right-handed pitchers as he struggled against left-handers (.250/.308/.458). His line against lefties (.329/.395/.521) in 2012 saw the second baseman significantly more productive.
If Marder continues to hit with such a level of success, we should expect his versatility to allow the Seattle Mariners to follow an aggressive plan in pushing him towards the Major Leagues. If he can also stay healthy, the evolution that has started to show as he morphs into a more complete offensive player and his fiery approach to the game could net the Seattle Mariners the type of bat they have spent much of this off-season looking for.
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