First Pitch: Why Starling Marte Should Break Camp With the Pirates

A lot has been made about Starling Marte’s excellent Spring Training. After going 1-for-1 yesterday with a bunt single, he has a .520 batting average and three homers in 25 at-bats. The Pirates continue to say that Marte won’t break camp with the team. That has some people pointing to the Spring Training numbers, ignoring his zero at-bats in AAA, and asking why.

It’s a very legitimate question. The Pirates should absolutely make a decision on Marte’s future based on this small sample size of at-bats in meaningless games. Want more proof? Here you go.

**Remember how good Lyle Overbay was for the Pirates last year? He anchored the first base position, led the offense through the first four months of the season, and when the trade deadline came the Pirates weren’t looking for a replacement at first.

Wait, you say that’s not how Overbay’s season went? You’re saying Overbay was horrible at the plate, and was released in August when the Pirates added Derrek Lee? My apologies. I was only looking at Overbay’s .368 average, 1.071 OPS, and four homers in 57 Spring Training at-bats last year.

**There was a lot of debate over the catching situation this past off-season. The Pirates declined the options of Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, then added Rod Barajas. Some say they should have kept Doumit, and some are fine with Barajas. The real crime was letting Jason Jaramillo go. Jaramillo was a proven hitter. Last year in Spring Training he had a .429 average and a 1.131 OPS in 35 at-bats. Ignore his career .235 average and .621 OPS.

**The Pirates set a precedent for keeping Marte back when they sent Pedro Alvarez down in 2009. He didn’t have any minor league experience, but hit for a .444 average and a 1.278 OPS in 18 at-bats during Spring Training. I guess we can blame the poor start in high-A that year on the undeserved demotion.

**Sure, Jose Bautista is now one of the best hitters in the game. But Robinzon Diaz hit for a .423 average and a 1.234 OPS in 26 Spring Training at-bats in 2009. Those are numbers Bautista can only dream about.

**Can someone tell me why Quincy Latimore isn’t in the majors yet? In his career, he’s 7-for-11 in Spring Training games, including 3-for-4 this year. His .239 average in AA last year should hardly hold him back.

**If you’re wondering why Andrew McCutchen never amounted to much, look no further than his .176 average in 17 Spring Training at-bats in 2006.

**Michael Ryan’s 2007 Spring Training line — a .396 average and a .965 OPS in 53 at-bats — was so good that they barred him from the majors until 2010, when he was let back in for 39 at-bats with the Dodgers. He was banished to a place known as “Triple-A”.

**We’ve seen the Pirates skip players over AAA in the past, all based on a good Spring Training. After a good Spring Training in 2004, the Pirates jumped Jose Castillo from AA to the majors, making him the Opening Day starting second baseman. We’ve seen how well this worked out for his career.

So maybe those examples weren’t the best ones to use to demonstrate why the Pirates should skip Starling Marte over AAA and call him up based on his 25 at-bats in Spring Training. But the point still stands. The Pirates would be foolish to send Marte down.

Marte is the top hitting prospect in the system. He’s a guy who showed great potential in AA last year, winning the batting title with a .332 average, and hitting 12 homers. Furthermore, he cut down on his walks last year, going from a 4.7% walk rate in high-A to a 3.8% walk rate in AA. Every pitching coach I’ve talked to said that it’s a good thing to see hitters drawing fewer walks. So we don’t need to worry about sending Marte to AAA to work on his plate patience. He’s set.

I don’t see why more people aren’t on board with this. Sure, history is littered with great Spring Training results that resulted in nothing. But let’s ignore all that and focus on what’s important: Starling Marte has a .520 average. In 25 at-bats! He’s the best hitting prospect in the system, and has a ton of upside. Why wouldn’t the Pirates call him up early and risk his development based on a few weeks of strong hitting in meaningless games?

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 2-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays. Report here.

**A.J. Burnett threw his first bullpen after his surgery.

**Starling Marte is showing his star potential this spring. Forget Spring Training stats. He should get the call for referring to himself in the third person.

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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.
  • wtmiller

    I guess the Pirates weren’t listening.

  • CWPCWP

    Excellent post.

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

    awesome

  • piratecad

    love the sarcasm…some people don’t get that you are being sarcastic 

  • JohnDreker

    I would extend that to say that you don’t base a decision on 25 AB’s during any part of the season. The highest career average in NLCS history is a .244 career hitter named Lloyd McClendon with his .625 average and 1.633 OPS in the three seasons his team made it to the playoffs. In second place is Hall of Famer Terry Puhl(Canadian and Texas Baseball Hall of Fame that is). Small sample sizes don’t work at any level, anytime of the year. Ask Miguel Mendez and his .407 avg and 5 homers in 15 GCL games in 2008, surely by now he must be a top prospect? Well, he did have a 3-0 record in 23 relief appearances last year…

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

    Starling Marte has hit where ever he has gone. Even done it off one of the top 5 pitchers in NL in Cliff Lee. Marte still reminds me tool wise of a poor mans Vladdy tools wise.