First Pitch: When Will Starling Marte Be Ready?

Starling Marte had a huge month of June. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ top hitting prospect finished the month with a .325/.385/.558 line in 120 at-bats. His strikeout rate was 23% and his walk rate was 7%. A lot of that was due to his strong finish to the month over his final ten games. In those ten games, Marte went 18-for-43 (.419) with a 1.259 OPS. That was enough to bring his month-long OPS from .769 to .944.

The strong hitting by the top prospect has already raised the question: when should Starling Marte be called up? That question gets more attention with the struggles at the major league level by Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. The Pirates could use a hitter with Marte’s upside. But the move will only work if Marte plays to that upside.

I’ve already mentioned many times that the decision to promote Marte should be based only on Marte. Looking at Marte as short-term help is sacrificing his long term potential. Marte is one of the few long term offensive pieces the Pirates have in the upper levels. Bringing him up before he’s ready is like cashing in a 30 year savings bond early. Sure, you get money now, but if you wait until it matures, you’re getting the full value. The Pirates need Marte’s full value more than they need quick cash in the short-term.

So when will Marte be ready? It’s easy to say he’s ready now, after looking at his numbers over the last ten games. But that’s only ten games. Marte has gone on long slumps several times this year. He’s also had strong short-term stretches similar to this one. After every one, we hear the “Bring Marte Up” chants. But Marte hasn’t been consistent with his hitting.

Marte currently has an .824 OPS on the season. But this isn’t the first time he’s been above .800. It happens after every hot streak he goes on. Then he drops down below .750 after a cold streak, before starting back up again on another hot streak. That kind of creates a funny roller coaster ride. During his hot streaks, all you hear is “Free Starling Marte”. Then he gets cold, and people acknowledge that he still has things to work on. And the moment he has a big game to break the slump, the “Free Starling Marte” chant comes out again.

It’s hard to tell when a prospect is ready for the next level. With fans, it tends to be like cooking food in the microwave. The player gets hot, the bell goes ding, and fans think the player is finished. But that’s not how it should be. Prospect promotions should be like a slow cooker. Just because the player is heating up, doesn’t mean he’s ready.

Marte is heating up again. But can he maintain that? His current hot streak is a span of ten games. Often when I point this out, it gets confused with “Tim is saying these ten games were a fluke”. That’s not what I’m saying. The recent ten game stretch was great. But that’s not my qualification for calling up a player. I want to see what he does after the ten game stretch. Anyone can get hot for ten games. Players can even have a good month. Ideally, I’d like to see Marte in Triple-A for another month.

One more month in Triple-A answers a lot of questions. First, it tells us whether this recent hot streak is just like the others, or something that can finally be sustained. There are some positive signs for the latter. The K/BB ratios are a good start. You want to give time for Marte to show that the next big slump isn’t following this latest hot streak.

You also want to give Marte time to show that this wasn’t just a fluke month. Last year we saw Matt Hague put up a 1.096 OPS in June. He carried his hot streak over to July, with an .812 OPS, although that was lowered after struggling in the second half. Hague then struggled in August and September. Looking at the entire season, the huge month of June was an outlier, and Hague was consistently around a .750-.800 OPS the other months.

Marte had an .830 OPS in April. He slumped in May with a .653 OPS, and his slump started before he went down with a wrist injury. Then in June he had a .944 OPS. Right now the outlier looks to be May. But it’s hard to trust an outlier when there are only three choices. If Marte puts up another strong month in July, it will strengthen the argument that he’s ready. If he puts up another strong month at the plate, and continues putting up decent strikeout and walk rates, we can start saying Free Starling Marte. But in the short-term, don’t confuse the fact that Marte is on a hot streak with the idea that he’s ready. Because that’s the same idea that’s been brought up after the previous hot streaks. He needs to prove that he’s ready by continuing this success, which is something he hasn’t done before.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Cardinals 7-3.

**Pirates Notebook: Alvarez Continues Hot Hitting in Day Games; Lincoln, McCutchen Updates.

**Prospect Watch: Marte Finishes a Strong Month of June With Three More Hits.

**Jake Burnette Cruises After Shaky First Inning.

**Victor Black Added to the Eastern League All-Star Game.

**Brad Lincoln Showing the Stuff to Close.

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About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1307305 Matt Clements

    Why not just give him a shot in the majors? I don’t think one more month in AAA is going to prove that he is going to have consistency in the majors. Developing consistency in the majors is a completely different animal than AAA. See Alvarez, Pedro. Marte’s shown he has the talent- if you keep him in AAA you’ll just be giving him one less month in the majors to figure it out.

  • leadoff

    I don’t think the only ops and Ba are the criteria that Pirates are looking at with Marte, there are a lot of other factors they do consider before bringing up a prospect, need at the major league level is one of them if the player in the minors is close to being ready.
    His and downs are just part of the maturation process, he will have the same problems at the major league level, but he is 5 tool and every bit as talented as McCutchen and IMO, if McCutchen would be put on the 60 day DL some time in the near future, Marte would be getting a call, they are not going to play Sutton in the outfield as a regular, he is not even an outfielder.

  • Lee Young

    Tim….why hasn’t the home page been updated? Internet/web guy problems?

  • fabricoh

    Nice post. Jays and Mets fan, stumbled here via the google, trying to get a sense of how imminent Marte’s promotion might be (for fantasy purposes).

    I think we need to do away with “ready,” the most Orwellian word in baseball. It has two radically different meanings. Of course Marte’s “ready” to play in the majors and be above replacement level. Probably even “ready” to play better than the Pirates’ incumbent cornermen. But, like you say, maybe not “ready” in the sense that he’s ideally prepared for his big-league career. Since ready means two different things, it inhibits understanding when people are debating prospect promotion…

    Not sure what we should use instead, though. Maybe “competent” and “primed.” I dunno.

  • Greatone1210

    Tim, really digging your articles as always.

    Anyway, on to Marte. I am in the same camp as you for the most part. I think Marte is oh so close to being ready for the call up. But being ready for the call up does not mean he will immediately succeed at the major league level. It will take some time and patience on the part of everyone. Few guys come straight up and just rake. Defensively he is fine but like you mention the K:BB needs to remain constant. I think we are really seeing him mature but could regress. With all that being said, I see Marte up very,very soon after the ASG. And I have a sneaking suspicion, we will be seeing a new face in the lineup via trade.

  • Lee Young

    As much as I’d love to see Joggin’ Jose in Indy, I have no problem waiting to bring Marte up in Sept. I’d leave him there for the rest of the year, and I bet you a 2013 Prospect Book, that’s what the FO does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    Yeah, I think that’s the biggest confusion amongst the, bring Marte up now, crowd. The only thing that we can really count on him bringing to the table immediately is his athleticism and defense. I’m of the opinion that what’s most important is allowing him to work out as many kinks in the minors as he can, and that he should not be brought up simply because Tabata and Presley both suck.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmvargo James Vargo

    Yeah, but Tabata is costing us games as the leagues worst outfielder. Wonder what his WAR is? Hate to change the subject, but who the heck is Stephen Welch in AA. Talk about numbers…