One of the big themes I’ve noticed while reading talks about Phillies prospects has been the comparison between Marson and D’Arnaud. Last winter, Keith Law jumped D’Arnaud over Marson, and this winter Kevin Goldstein bumped D’Arnaud above Marson. Baseball America still puts Marson ahead, and the readers here who voted for the top 30 put Marson ahead. So I wanted to take a deeper look….
D’Arnaud was drafted in 2007, so we have two summers worth of data on him. Marson has obviously been around longer, so we have more of a track record on him. Let’s start from square 1. Marson was ranked the 6th best prospect in Arizona in the 2004 draft, and BA said this about him
• C Louis Marson and RHP Craig Heyer, batterymates at Coronado High, elevated their draft stock and could be picked in the first seven to 10 rounds. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Marson has been catching for only a year and made significant strides. He also has a near-perfect physique for the position. Heyer has plenty of upside in his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, along with a good fastball/slider mix.
So they noted he was raw defensively, but had a good build for the position. His athleticism has always been noted as a big plus in his profile. The Phillies took Marson in the 4th round, and his debut showed a line of
126 PA — .257/.333/.389 — 3 2B — 4 HR — 13 BB — 18 K
He had already showed promising plate discipline, and actually hit 4 HR in just 126 PA, but that ratio would begin to drop as we’ve seen. For his second season, he again played in a short season league, this time moving up to Batavia. In 252 PA’s, he put up this line
252 PA — .245/.329/.391 — 11 2B — 5 HR — 27 BB — 52 K
Again he showed good plate discipline, but he struggled with the bat in a very pitcher friendly league. His ISO went from .132 to .146, and his walk rate went from 10.3% to 10.7%. Those were both improvements, and both reasons for optimism underneath what looked like a pedestrian stat line.
Now lets shift gears and look at D’Arnaud. He was rated the 8th best prospect in California, a more traditional baseball hotbed, and the 49th best prospect in the entire country. BA had this to say about him
Scouting Report: In several ways, d’Arnaud resembles his older brother Chase, a two-year starter at third base for Pepperdine, and Travis has also committed to play for the Waves. Chances are he won’t get to school, though, because he’s a more athletic version of his brother with premium catch-and-throw skills behind the plate and a more advanced bat. While he’s still a streak hitter, d’Arnaud has showed an improved ability to stay inside the ball and drive it to all fields. It’s a quick, line-drive swing for the most part, but he has shown some loft power, with seven home runs, and he ranked among state leaders in RBIs. Defensively, he grades as above-average as both a receiver and thrower, with a plus arm, soft hands and quick feet. While he’s athletic enough to play an infield spot, he’s too good behind the plate–consistently getting his throws to second base in 1.9 seconds–to move.
Obviously a big difference in the writeups on both guys. D’Arnaud had a pedigree as a catcher, and his potential behind the plate is what got him drafted in the compensation round. In his debut after being drafted, as the Phillies did with Marson, he was sent to the GCL where he produced this line
151 PA — .241/.278/.348 — 3 2B — 4 HR — 4 BB — 23 K
He obviously struggled with the stick. His four walks compared with the 23 strikeouts indicated some struggles adapting to wood bats. Like Marson, the Phillies sent him to short season ball to begin his 2nd pro season, but unlike Sweet Lou, he would finish the season at Lakewood.
SS: 197 PA — .309/.371/.463 — 13 2B — 4 HR — 18 BB — 29 K
A: 70 PA — .297/.357/.469 — 5 2B — 2 HR — 5 BB — 10 K
What you see here is a huge leap forward in his walk rate (2.6% in 2007, 8.6% in 2008) and the solid ISO numbers.
The big takeaway from this, in my opinion at least, is that D’Arnaud’s improvements from his debut to his second season were more drastic than Marson’s. D’Arnaud hit over .300 in his second season, flashed good raw power (.172 ISO at Lakewood), and already was lauded for his defensive abilities. Marson’s secondary skills were evident after his first two seasons, but he didn’t show that rapid spike improvement. At this point, Marson has shown more at a higher level (obviously, he has 3 years experience on D’Arnaud), but you can see why scouts and evaluators are touting D’Arnaud. If you’re considering only ceiling, then I think its perfectly reasonable to rank D’Arnaud ahead of Marson. But Marson’s proximity to the majors still gives him a slight edge for me.