Starling Marte is putting on a show in Pirates spring training

Getting Real - Starling Marte

Yesterday I wrote this post about Matt Hague, and I completely lowered the boom. I’ve never really understood what “lowering the boom” is, but it seems like a fun way to describe a blog post, so we’re sticking with it.

Today I want to lower the boom once again, but this time I’m going to lower it in, on, and around Starling Marte.

Marte is the Pirates top offensive prospect, and for good reason (one of the good reasons is that they basically have no one else, but let’s ignore that for now). The dominican phenom hit .332/.370/.500 last year for AA Altoona on his way to winning the Eastern League batting title and finishing second in the voting for Pirates minor league player of the year award (behind Robbie Grossman). That was after year when he hit .315/.386/.432 in A+ ball. Marte cut his strikeouts from a percentage of 23.3% to 17.5% from 2010 to 2012, although he drew less walks as well (3.8% compared to 4.7% in 2010).

In addition to the solid batting average and good on base percentage, Marte started developing some more power in 2011. He had hit just five home runs in 125 games prior to last year; he hit 12 home runs in 129 games last year. He also stole 24 bases for Altoona and played some stellar defense in centerfield for the Curve.

Prospects like Marte are rare. It’s a huge boost to have a guy in your system that can hit for good average, get on base at a good rate, steal bases, and play really good defense. Adding power to that equation makes him a scary good prospect. We saw him crush a home run in today’s spring training game, which could be a foreshadowing of a big power year for the kid in 2012.

So there’s a bunch of reasons to be really high on Starling Marte. However, there are at least a couple reasons to want to see more from Marte before getting really excited. While AA to AAA normally isn’t the toughest jump for Marte-type players, you still have to be patient and see how he handles the jump. Gorkys Hernandez (nowhere near the hitter that Marte is) made the jump last year into AAA, and actually improved at the dish, so there’s some encouragement.

Marte has done it all since coming into the Pirates system, but he still has another hurdle to clear before he’s ready for the big leagues. I certainly believe that Marte will put up big time numbers in Indianapolis this year, but not everyone agrees with me there. The ZiPS projection system has Marte hitting .279/.320/.421 (which is what he would do at the major league level), which confuses me as to how one comes up with something like that, but it still seems kinda low, doesn’t it? I think a lot of that comes from the fact that he doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but that doesn’t seem to be something that he can’t overcome at this stage in his career.

The other minor problem for Marte is that there isn’t a clear open spot for him in Pittsburgh. Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen have long term contracts, leaving just one spot for Marte to take. Not a lot of people expect Alex Presley to be the starter for years to come, but he is going to get his shot this year, and if he plays like last year you can’t justify taking him out of the lineup. The other problem is that the Pirates need to find someone to hit for power. Hopefully they have that in Pedro Alvarez, but if they don’t who knows where it’s going to come from. Josh Bell is at least two years away from the bigs in my eyes, and right now he’s penciled in as an outfielder (although a move to first base wouldn’t surprise me). While the Pirates say they want to play small ball and use speed to score runs, that just doesn’t fly for long in today’s league. The Pirates need at least one guy that can hit 30-40 home runs; you don’t see teams winning without a guy like that often. If Marte takes the spot in left field joining McCutchen and Tabata, that’s an outfield that’s pretty low on power. That alone isn’t going to make the Pirates trade Marte or anything like that, but it’s something to keep in mind for now.

I really think Marte is going to make his big league debut this September, if not earlier, and it will be in left field for the Pirates. Only time will tell if he sticks there or not, but he’s certainly a great prospect to have in the system. He has 7 straight hits in spring training right now, and that’s causing a lot of fans to call for him to make the team out of spring training. We’re all sick of being told to be patient, but we have to do just that with Marte. He hasn’t seen a pitch in AAA ball yet, and Presley deserves his full time opportunity. Keep your fingers crossed that this guy keeps hitting and stays healthy, because if he does he has a nice major league career in front of him.

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