TEMPE, Ariz. – While growing up in Florida and playing at 2008 mythical national champion American Heritage High School in Plantation, Deven Marrero was given ample opportunity to get in front of the state’s college coaches during his high school games and also at numerous Perfect Game events.
Marrero quickly established himself as one of the nation’s top middle-infield prospects in the class of 2009, and was ranked the country’s 50th overall top prospect in his class when he graduated from American Heritage.
He probably could have had his choice of any number of high-profile NCAA Division I schools within Florida’s borders, but surprised observers when he committed to Arizona State University, a member of the faraway Pacific-10 Conference (now the Pac-12). Marrero had no ties to the desert southwest but jumped at the opportunity to enroll at ASU.
“Arizona State sells itself, with the baseball tradition here,” Marrero, a 6-1, `194-pound junior shortstop, told PG after the Sun Devils beat visiting Pac-12 rival California on March 23 in the first game of a three-game series.
“It’s unbeatable; this is the best place to play baseball and they get you ready for the next level,” he said. “They teach you how to win and how to play the game the right way, so it was a very easy choice for me when I was given the opportunity to come out west and play.”
Marrero was also projected to go as high as the second round in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft, but was adamant in his desire to settle-in at ASU. That insistence caused his draft stock to tumble, and he was eventually chosen in the 17th round by the Cincinnati Reds.
“I was bent on going to college,” Marrero said last month. “I think college is going to be very important to me after my (baseball) career and it’s definitely the best choice I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve learned a lot coming here and getting an education, which is unbeatable.”
The Arizona State Sun Devils popped out of the chute to begin the 2012 season, winning eight of their first nine games and 11 of their first 16 before beginning Pac-12 play against UCLA in Los Angeles on March 16.
No. 26-ranked ASU lost two-of-three to the No. 4 Bruins that weekend, setting into a motion a downward spiral that is still ongoing. The Sun Devils were swept by No. 20 Oregon this past weekend, leaving them with an overall record of 16-12 and a Pac-12 mark of 3-6. They were 2-6 against top-25 teams after the sweep by the Ducks.
Arizona State has three-game Pac-12 series against Oregon State and USC up next at home in Packard Stadium, but then hits the road for a nonconference two-game set against New Mexico before traveling to No. 7 Stanford for three games April 20-22.
Marrero knows the Sun Devils must take care of business when they’re playing at Packard.
“It’s very important. These are conference games and you have to get every win you can at home,” he said. “When another team comes in here you have to take care of them because it’s tough winning (on the road), and you’ve got take care of your home field.”
Marrero’s fortunes this season have mirrored those of his team, at least in terms of his hitting. The Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore last season, he has seen his batting average drop from .327 (17-for-52) heading into the UCLA series to .270 (27-for-100) after leaving Eugene, Ore., on Sunday.
Marrero hit .397 (62-for-156) in 42 games as a freshman and .313 (69-for-219) in 54 games last years. He hit 40 extra-base hits (25 doubles, six triples and eight home runs) in 96 games his first two seasons here. He had six extra-base hits in his first 26 games this season.
“I’m just trying to get comfortable and just trying to stay within my at-bats,” Marrero said last month. “I’m trying to just win and trying to do what I can for the team.”
Marrero has historically been a winner, beginning with his high school years at American Heritage where he was a teammate of Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (Hosmer had also committed to ASU but signed with the Kansas City Royals after they made him the third overall pick in the ’08 draft). He participated in 13 Perfect Game events between 2005 and 2008, including nine PG WWBA and one BCS Finals tournaments, mostly with the Midland Redskins.
Marrero played in two PG WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., both with the Braves Scout Team. The 2008 Braves Scout Team included current Stanford right-hander Mark Appel and Washington Nationals sensation and 2011 overall No. 1 draft pick Bryce Harper. He also performed at the 2008 Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis, a gathering that included 13 future first-round draft selections.
“You got to play with a lot of players that now you see in the big leagues or that were in the draft, and it’s very good baseball,” Marrero said of the PG experience. “It’s the best of the best at those Perfect Game (events) and it’s good competition. I made a lot of friends playing there and it’s been fun. It was a good time.
“That’s how you get better, when you play against the best of the best,” he said. “When you’re put out there you can separate yourself and you can see who’s good and who’s not.”
PG ranks Marrero as the No. 3 overall prospect in the upcoming draft, based on his body of work since graduating from high school. In addition to his accomplishments at ASU, he was named the Cape Cod League’s No. 1 prospect last summer – Appel was No. 2 – which only enhanced his draft standing.
Marrero will hit at the professional level, and he can also rely on his usually sparkling glove work in the field. Perfect Game Director of Crosschecker Allan Simpson made the following observation in the “Draft Focus” profile he penned on Marrero in mid-January:
“He is in a league of his own as a college shortstop and scouts say he is ready-made to play defensively in the big leagues. Furthermore, they have little reservation in extolling him as a future Gold-Glover. Marrero has exceptional balance and rhythm in the field, no matter what the play or where a throw originates, along with extremely soft hands. H has a knack for instinctively reading ground balls and getting his glove into the right position … and is also adept at shifting his feet to make an on-line throw from any angle.”
His defensive skills didn’t develop by accident.
“That’s what I work on every day,” Marrero said. “I work on both aspects of the game and defense is something that I’ve been known for, so I definitely try to emphasize that.”
ASU was slapped with a one year postseason ban and three years of probation due to what the NCAA deemed a “lack of institutional control” by former coach Pat Murphy and the school’s athletic department. The Sun Devils are not eligible to compete for what would be the school’s 22nd College World Series appearance in June.
“We’re very disappointed, but it is what it is and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Marrero said. “These conference games, this is our College World Series – this is what we’re playing for. It’s too bad that we can’t play (in the postseason) but we’re still playing the game. They can’t take our games away from us.
“Winning the Pac-12 championships is a big deal – we let it slip away from us last year, and we have to get it back.”
ASU will have to start playing better and scoring more runs it hopes to contend for the conference championship. The Sun Devils still have .300 hitters in Joey DeMichele (.366), Trever Allen (.329) and Abe Ruiz (.304), and Ruiz and DeMichele have combined for 12 home runs and 54 RBI.
Starters Brady Rodgers (4-1, 1.29 ERA) and Trevor Williams (5-2, 1.51 ERA) have been solid.
“We’ve had our ups and downs but we’re going to grind it out; that’s how we are,” Marrero said before his team’s recent swoon. “We’re playing every game like it’s our last; we’re playing every game like it’s a championship. We’re playing hard, and sometimes the ball doesn’t come our way but we’re still grinding every day.”