Pittsburgh Pirates: Time to Give Mason Martin a Chance

Mandatory Credit: MLB Photos via USA Today Sports
Mandatory Credit: MLB Photos via USA Today Sports /

Pittsburgh Pirates slugging first base prospect Mason Martin has done solid at Triple-A, and with struggles at first base in the majors, it’s time to give him the call.

The Pittsburgh Pirates first base situation has not been great, to say the least. Yoshi Tsutsugo has taken up most of the playing time at the corner infield position. Going into Wednesday afternoon’s game, Tsutsugo had just a 53 wRC+. After drawing two walks, his OPS finally climbed back above .500. Although he started the year out with solid glovework at first base, he’s made some costly miscues over the past few games.

On Tuesday, he couldn’t pick a low throw from Ke’Bryan Hayes. This runner scored and was a significant deciding factor in that game. During Wednesday’s game, he let a ball get through his glove that could have been a double play that would have kept the game tied. Instead, it scored the run from third and let the runner from first reach third base.

But the Pittsburgh Pirates do have a first base option currently destroying Triple-A pitching, Mason Martin. Martin had a solid, albeit worrisome, 2021 campaign. He batted .241/.317/.487 with a .344 wOBA, and 114 wRC+. Although his bottom line offensive production was comfortably above average, it came with a 34.3% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate. Those were both downgrades from 2019, when he had a 30.2% strikeout rate and 12.2% walk rate.

Martin has collected 70 plate appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season. Well over half of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases. He has eight doubles, four triples, and three home runs. The questions concerning his strikeouts and walks have only grown. He has struck out seven times for every walk, having a 3:21 BB:K ratio. That’s a .14 ratio, and only 14 batters have carried that low of a ratio across an extended sample size (300 plate appearances) and have produced a wRC+ of 100 or greater. However, only one of those batters had a strikeout rate of 30% or higher.

Martin isn’t an awful fielder, but he isn’t going to be the next Keith Hernandez over at first base either. In simple terms, he gets the job done. Nothing flashy and makes the routine stuff, along with some of the tougher plays.

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Look, seven strikeouts for every walk is quite ugly, but a first baseman with a sub-.550 OPS and so-so fielding at first base is also quite ugly. The bar Martin has to surpass is a .511 OPS, and when he does get a hit, it goes for extra bases more than 70% of the time. The Pirates have almost nothing to lose by promoting Martin and letting him take Yoshi Tsutsugo’s spot in the line-up. Even if Martin has a .700 OPS and strikes out 35%+ of the time, that’s still an upgrade over what Tsutsugo has done so far.