In 2007 the Pittsburgh Pirates made a minor transaction that not many people heard about – Rene Gayo signing 19-year-old Dominican Republic native Starling Marte to a deal.
Many Pirates fans, myself included, questioned this decision but boy, were we all wrong. Marte has quickly solidified himself as the left fielder of now and the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates realized this as they quickly signed Marte to a contract extension in 2014 – keeping him (and fellow outfielder Andrew McCutchen in the Steel City through most of this decade).
Speaking of McCutchen, everybody that is a fan of baseball knows who he is. He has turned himself into the Pittsburgh Pirates’ perennial MVP candidate. But Starling Marte is going to take that title away from McCutchen in the coming years, if not this year.
It sounds crazy – but let’s take a look at the slash lines of each player: Player A put up a .348/.408/.567 line and Player B hit .295/.393/.482. And, that’s right. Player A is Starling Marte, who came back after the All-Star Break and put up ungodly numbers because of a few tweaks he made to his swing.
The tweaks that Marte made to his swing were simple; he took his leg kick out and, in turn, kept his head soft and on the ball longer. By doing this, his hands are soft and through the zone much smoother than McCutchen. We all know that McCutchen has some of the fastest hands through the zone but, what not a lot fans notice is that his swing can become a little long and he will drop his shoulder and swing under the ball. Marte has a swing that is natural and straight through the zone, letting him barrel up the ball a lot more. This was evident in his swings after the All-Star Break.
In the second half of the 2014 MLB season Player A put up .348/.408/.567 and Player B hit .295/.393/.482. That’s right, Player A was Starling Marte.
Now all of this is just hitting and we all know that the MVP in each league usually goes to the best player on the field so there has to be more added to it than just hitting. So lets look at fielding and base running.
In terms of his work with the glove, Starling Marte is good, I mean really good at fielding. He is a true center fielder that plays left field at PNC Park. Every Pirates fan knows PNC Park has a giant outfield that needs someone that can handle the deep fly balls that would go out of the yard at any other park.
Marte can cover a lot of ground and cover it very quickly. He has a very quick first step and usually takes the correct route to the ball. Every once in awhile you see him make a mistake but his speed can make up that mistake very quickly. But you wonder what separates Marte and McCutchen? I’ll tell you, its Marte’s arm.
Marte has a very strong, accurate throwing arm from that corner outfield slot. McCutchen rarely makes a mistake when fielding a ball in the outfield, although MLB hitters know McCutchen doesn’t have the greatest arm in the Pirates outfield so they test him and usually win that battle. Needless to say, no fly ball will drop in the Pirates’ outfield especially with Gregory Polanco out there lurking in right field (another true center fielder). But, that’s neither here nor there, as those comparisons will come at a different time.
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Just as he uses his legs while he’s on the field defensively, Marte is also a top-notch baserunner. The past couple of years Marte was the Pirates’ leadoff hitter so his bat didn’t play. What would play was Marte getting plunked all the time and getting on base.
While Marte reaching base was nice, the injuries that came from the hit-by-pitches were just the opposite. So, with the emergence of the “spark plug” Josh Harrison, the Pirates have found their leadoff hitter. Marte will be dropped down to the middle of the lineup to get his bat to play.
Will they still use Marte’s speed? Abso”BUCN”lutely.
Every time Marte gets on base he will have the green light to run. Each of the past seasons with Pirates he has lead the team in Stolen Bases and I don’t see that title going to anybody else. If the Pirates outfielders stay healthy all year we may see something very special. When I say special, I’m talking about all three starting outfielders potentially be 20-20 guys or heck even 30-30 guys down the road. Nonetheless, the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield is the best in the National League and they will take that crown for many more years to come.
Enough about the outfield combined; let’s get back to Marte and McCutchen. The Pirates have a great crisis on their hands, and that crisis is having two MVP-worthy outfielders on their team. Notice how I said “great crisis”? That’s because a lot of teams in baseball would love to have that issue.
We all know that McCutchen is down to earth and welcomes competition, so with Marte primed and ready for a huge year in 2015, look for McCutchen to come out and play and put up the consistency we all know and love from him.
Meanwhile, Starling Marte is ready to take the reins and challenge the clubhouse leader for the role of perennial MVP candidate in Pittsburgh – perhaps as early as this season.