It’s Starling Marte Time: What to Love and What to Fear

Starling Marte will arrive tomorrow. We can put the #FreeStarlingMarte hash tags away. Mission accomplished.

I’ve been saying one thing about Marte since his hot streak at the end of June: let’s be patient. Everyone wanted to call him up after he exploded for nine games at the end of June. My stance on July 1st: give him a month to see if he was legit, and to make sure this wasn’t a hot streak.

In the month of July, Marte put up a .293/.363/.554 line in 92 at-bats. That’s almost similar to his numbers in the month of June. Looking at the big picture, you could make an argument that he was ready. I wrote this in that article on July 1st.

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.

I would say that a .917 OPS in the month of July strengthens the argument that he’s ready.

There are some concerns. For one, Marte’s strikeout rate has been pretty bad recently. For a big stretch in July he was up to 33%. On the month he finished at 25% in Triple-A. After starting off hot, Marte went in to a slump where he wasn’t hitting for average, was drawing a lot of walks, and was striking out a ton, all while hitting for a ton of power.

As I wrote on July 22nd, that didn’t speak well for his chances of a callup.

It’s not like the Pirates NEED to call up Marte right now. They have one more game against the Marlins in this three game series. After that, they play five games against the Chicago Cubs and four games against the Houston Astros. That’s a pretty easy schedule, and it shouldn’t come with desperation for an extra bat. That schedule also takes the Pirates up to the trade deadline, at which point they might have an external solution at one of the corner outfield spot.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see Marte at all this year. It’s not like the Pirates are desperate for him. They’re 13 games above .500, they’re on a four game winning streak, they have an easy stretch of games coming up, and their offense has been one of the best in the majors the last two months. They aren’t playing the ideal players at the corner outfield spots, but it’s not hurting them when you look at the big picture.

Going back to the start of June, the Pirates are 11-2-1 in series wins. The last time they lost two series’ in a row was May 18-23, when they went 2-4 against the Tigers and Mets.

In the short-term for the 2012 season, there’s not much need to bring up Marte right now. The team is winning, the offense is playing well, and Marte is in another slump. There’s no urgency in any of those situations. In the long term, there might not be a need for Marte if outside help is brought in. It could very well be that we don’t see Marte this season because of those two factors.

I’ve already been asked about 100 times on Twitter whether Marte’s promotion means the Pirates will go without adding a hitter at the deadline. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it is an interesting dynamic. My thought is that if they weren’t comfortable going with rookies like Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson to be their rotation boost, they’re probably not going to be comfortable going with a rookie to be their big offensive boost.

Now that Marte is up, there are two things you need to watch for. First, the good. There’s a reason we’ve been higher on Marte than any other outlet. He was our number two prospect pre-2011, and number three this year behind Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. He’s a good leadoff hitter with a ton of speed. He doesn’t draw a ton of walks, but makes up for that with a high average and the ability to bunt his way on for a hit. He also has power, which has seen an increase each of the last two years, and could eventually be 20-25 home run power. Then there’s his defense, which is amazing in center field, highlighted by excellent range and a laser arm. Unfortunately, Marte probably won’t play center field in Pittsburgh, even though he’s better at the position than Andrew McCutchen.

The downside, at least in the short-term, are the strikeouts. It was only a few weeks ago that he was striking out a third of the time in Triple-A. He’s not really a free swinger. He makes good contact with everything, but his weakness is recognizing outside breaking balls. That’s a weakness that could be exploited in the majors, and might have been exploited in the previous weeks in Triple-A. He’s got a ton of speed, but he’s not successful stealing bases.

Overall I think Marte has the ceiling to be a star player. I said a few weeks ago on Twitter that I’d put his upside near Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton. Obviously I’m alone in that thought, since Marte has never been rated higher than a prospect who barely broke the top 50. Does he have more to work on? Probably. But you can’t argue with the overall results in July. There would have been a ton of doubt about him being ready if he was called up on July 1st. His overall numbers in July erase a lot of that doubt. There’s still the doubt surrounding his strikeouts, but I think that would have existed regardless of when he was set to arrive.

In a perfect world you want to see Marte called up with a 22% strikeout rate, a 10% walk rate, hitting for power, and just absolutely dominating Triple-A on a consistent basis. He wasn’t exactly doing that, looking more like a streaky hitter. His hot streaks were more frequent than his cold streaks, and his hot streaks were amazing, while his cold streaks were still respectable (around a mid-.700 OPS). There could be some concern that he runs in to similar issues that we saw with Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley, running in to struggles down the line in the majors. For now, it will be exciting to watch him play in the majors.

My favorite thing the last few years has been watching the reactions of people who are seeing Marte play for the first time. When people see his speed, defense in center, his power, and his very muscular frame (if you’ve ever thought he’s a short, skinny outfielder, you’re wrong), their opinions usually change quickly, and the opinions are amazement at how good he is.

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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.
  • JohnDreker

    While I think Marte is an upgrade for the Pirates now, I’m not a huge fan of bringing young kids up before they are ready and he definitely still has things to work on. His weaknesses are being exploited by veteran AAAA-type pitchers and his stolen base rate, compared to the speed he possesses, is poor at best. The one thing I will say, is this move doesn’t preclude him from starting next season at AAA, so why not upgrade the offense and especially the defense and team speed as you make a playoff run.

    Basically, I’m okay with the move but I don’t think we will see his full potential, which is still at least a full season down the road, and one extra month shouldn’t take away from his progress(I’m assuming he was a definite Sept call-up based on speed/defense alone)

    • http://twitter.com/Slew_James James Conley

      One of the best counterpoints to that that I’ve heard is the team tends to focus too much on what is lacking and too little on what is potentially helpful. Plus, something had to be done about the leadoff spot. Hopefully Marte can address that need.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        With prospects, the focus is always on what is lacking, for every team. Every prospect has something lacking. If they didn’t, they’d be in the majors.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    I wonder if he is going to start. I’m guessing he won’t. Presley will keep on playing as long as he hits around .250, with Marte getting spot starts is my guess. But we’ll see tomorrow.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_46YTB5OO4O7UM2OVB44UZSTXNA Nate

      Will the Bucco faithful be patient with him? Like say, a hot start followed by two poor weeks. Will we be “oh see, he wasn’t ready…send him back” or will we understand that he still has work to do?

    • PirateInTheBay707

      I seen a quote from one of the higher-ups that if Marte was to be called up, he would only do so if he could get regular playing time. I fully expect him to start tomorrow.

  • PirateInTheBay707

    Can’t wait to see him play tomorrow, 5:05 pst. Be there or be square!

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoInc Bucco Inc

    Even if the offense slumps.. Speed and Defense does not.

    I think the player that will be most effected is McGehee. Presley and Marte will play a lot together. Jones at 1B and Pedro at 3B. Sorry

    236/302/390 … 8HR – 35 RBI .McGehee’s stats. Why is this guy a guarantee in the line-up?

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    Saw him in person for the first time in Erie playing AA. Your description of him is right on target. He has the natural talent to be great – it’s just a question of whether he masters it.

  • st1300b

    I think as CH would say, put your expectations away and just enjoy watching a young player with elite talent get his first taste of the show. Trying to figure it all out, just gives me an anxiety complex – I prefer to sit back and appreciate this kid earning his opportunity. Overall the one thing that can not be argued is that the 25 man roster just got stronger than it was yesterday. That’s as good a place to start as any.