When the Orioles drafted Adrian Marin out of a Miami area high school in the third round of the 2012 draft, the young shortstop was so excited that he posted a picture of himself in an Orioles hat, signing his contract, before it was even official. He still had to take the legendary Orioles physical. He passed. It's hard not to like someone who displays so much exuberance about joining the organization. You want them to beat the odds and turn into the next star or even superstar.
Marin, still only 20, spent his second full season in the organization playing for the High-A Frederick Keys in the Carolina League. He was nearly three years younger than the average player in that league. That's the kind of thing that is important to keep in mind when considering a player's performance that, on paper, looks pretty underwhelming. They can't all be fast-moving marvels like Mike Trout or Manny Machado. If that was Marin's level of talent, he would have been a first rounder, not #99 overall.
The reminder about being young for his league is important because it was not a banner year for Marin when it came to hitting. Over 430 plate appearances in 115 games for the Keys, he batted only .232/.271/.341, showing some respectable speed with 30 doubles and 12 stolen bases, but little in the way of power or ability to make contact. That followed on the heels of a .667 OPS he hit for in Delmarva last year.
Though young for both leagues when he played in them, it still seems fair to figure that offense is not going to be a calling card for Marin. Nor does it need to be, given that he plays a middle infield position. However, he'll need to get up to at least some bare minimum level to be able to make it farther up the system, let alone to the big leagues.
In the prospect rankings on MLB.com before the season, Marin was considered the #11 prospect in the system - a name worth knowing, but not anyone who would be in line for any immediate impact. By season's end, that same list ranked him as the #13 prospect in the O's organization. That's not exactly falling off the radar, but it means he didn't grow like the team had hoped, either. Other players passed him while he stayed in place.
Before the season, Marin was also considered the best defensive infielder in the Orioles system by Baseball America, although that may be a reflection of a lack of competition more than anything. He made 15 errors while playing short for the Keys this season. That sounds bad, although you shouldn't judge a minor leaguer by his errors. After all, Machado had 19 errors between Delmarva and Frederick in 2011 and committed 23 errors in Bowie in 2012 before his MLB call-up where he helped the Orioles into the playoffs with his amazing defense.
That's not to say that Marin is going to turn into Machado out there, either, but you shouldn't write him off yet. That said, there are questions about whether he'll be able to remain at shortstop in the long run. Baseball Prospectus' Tucker Blair reported on Marin back in April and made note of a fringe arm that could ultimately be destined for second base. A solid defensive second baseman who's a bit light with the bat can still have value, although of course it's no sure thing that Marin could even develop into that.
With the way he performed this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Marin start out the 2015 season repeating in Frederick. He'll still be just 21, which is young-ish for that level, especially for a player who was picked out of high school. If the O's agree with the idea that his future may not be at shortstop, he may have to get adjusted to a new position on the diamond as well.
Every year is an important year for a minor leaguer. The nature of the system is that there are always new people pushing up from below you. It's especially going to be important for Marin to keep himself moving forward. Before long, if he doesn't get better, he might find himself in the level of player who gets shuffled off to another team in a Dan Duquette August trade.
I'll be rooting for him. The dream is not dead yet. How can you not cheer for this guy?