Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is an exciting, electric, multi-tooled player.
Marte is good now. But he has even more upside.
Now 24 years old, Marte has already played 47 games and has 182 plate appearances in a Pirates uniform. On July 26, 2012, Marte joined a small group of players with the distinction of having hit a home run on the first pitch they saw as a Major Leaguer.
A player is considered a rookie if he has spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster, excluding time spent on the disabled list or being added to the roster after the Sept. 1 expansion period. He can’t have more than 130 at-bats and retain his rookie status.
As a result of his playing time in Pittsburgh last season, Marte is no longer considered a prospect and he has lost his rookie status.
The first time I saw Marte, in the 2011 Futures Game, he served notice that he was knocking on the door of a very successful Major League career. He was the World team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder.
The Pirates signed the right-handed-hitting Marte as an international free agent from his native Dominican Republic in 2007. He was the first graduate of the team’s baseball academy in El Toro, outside of Santo Domingo.
It is difficult to quantify which of Marte’s many tools are his most dominant and most well developed.
One can begin with his combination of speed and power that allow him to beat the opposition with his bat or his legs. Or even with his stellar defense and his much-better-than-average throwing arm from the outfield.
Well coordinated and highly athletic, Marte has excellent instincts for the game.
Marte is a force to be reckoned with at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field. While he needs to refine the technique and nuances of basestealing, his pure speed from home plate to first base is a great starting point for his running game.
Stealing bases may be the focal point of Marte’s offensive arsenal.
While he isn’t quite yet Rickey Henderson, improvement in stealing bases will come with instruction and repetition. Marte will exploit pitcher/catcher combinations that are not quick enough to home plate with the pitch and quick enough with the release of the ball from the catcher to second base. From what I have seen of his ability, there will be little to no room for error when Marte reaches first base. That was the case when I saw him steal two bases in three attempts during a recent Spring Training game I scouted.
Marte occasionally makes mistakes of inexperience regarding timing in his running game. Leaving too soon on stolen-base attempts renders him vulnerable. That’s what happened the time he was caught stealing in the game I saw.
Since his second professional season, Marte has stolen 20 or more bases every year. His power, meanwhile, is emerging. At six-feet and 180 pounds, Marte is solidly built and doesn’t carry extra pounds to slow him down. He may still add some muscle strength to his physique.
I believe Marte’s early career was somewhat hampered by an injury that impacted one of his most important offensive weapons — his quick and reliable hands. He experienced a broken hamate bone, and he may have felt the impact of that injury in subtle ways for quite some time.
Since he isn’t huge and he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a muscle-bound thumper, Marte’s power comes from his extremely quick hands, generating better than average bat speed. His swing plane allows him to consistently use the barrel of the bat. His hands, wrists and well-developed forearms do the work and provide the torque necessary to drive the ball and create backspin.
Marte has been working hard to exercise more patience at the plate and generate more walks. It’s a goal that he is achieving and one most young hitters face. He has to continue to be selective and not become a classic “bad ball” hitter.
When I recently saw him play, I noticed good plate discipline and a relaxed approach at the plate.
Marte’s good eye-hand coordination is a major factor in allowing him to recognize pitches and wait a bit longer for pitches he can handle. When, in the past, he would expand the zone in favor of the pitcher, he is now much more prone to taking pitches he doesn’t feel he can hit. Simply put, he is now a much more difficult out.
Prior to making his debut for the Pirates, Marte played at every level of the Pirates organization, from Rookie-level to Triple-A.
Marte’s time in Minor League baseball spanned parts of six seasons and a total of 1,994 plate appearances. From a development standpoint, that’s a significant number of trips to the plate. He played in 464 games, compiling a .303 composite batting average.
In 2012, playing at Triple-A Indianapolis in the International League, Marte showed his speed and gap power by stroking 21 doubles, 13 triples and 12 home runs among his 111 hits on the way to a very respectable .286 batting average. Not many hitters can claim 41 percent of their hits go for extra bases.
As is the case with virtually every young player with speed, Marte’s challenge will be getting on base. I am confident he will be able to do that.
Defensively, Marte is already an accomplished outfielder. I believe he best profiles as a center fielder. However, the Pirates are well staffed at that position with All-Star Andrew McCutchen. That means Marte will likely play left field. And he’ll play it well.
Using his combination of speed, power, defensive skills and outstanding athletic ability, Marte should continue to refine his game to become a spark plug for the Pirates’ offense.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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