Rookie Review: Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates promoted outfield prospect Starling Marte to the major league roster in July. He has now exceeded rookie qualifications and will no longer show up on prospect lists entering 2013. I've received several requests for my updated opinion on Marte, so this seems like a good time to weigh in.
Before his promotion, Marte hit .286/.347/.500 in 388 at-bats for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, with 28 walks and 91 strikeouts. He also stole 21 bases but was caught 12 times. The Major League Equivalent of his Indianapolis line is approximately .237/.290/.398, for a .688 OPS.
In the majors so far, Marte has hit .247/.293/.403 for a .696 OPS. He's drawn eight walks with 45 strikeouts in 154 at-bats for a .178 BB/K ratio. In Triple-A he fanned in 21% of his plate appearances while walking in 6.5%. In the majors, he's fanned in 26.6% and walked in 4.7%.
Put all that together, and Marte's major league slash line is exactly what we should expect: his actual big league .696 OPS is right in line with his MLE .688 OPS. His walk and strikeout rate have deteriorated against better pitching, exactly as we would expect them to for a guy with bad plate discipline moving up the ladder.
Sabermetrically, there are no surprises here at all.
Stats aren't the whole story, of course, but the scouting stuff lines up well too.
Marte passes the eye test: he looks like a good player, being fast, athletic, wiry-but-strong, with an impressive throwing arm and great range. Scouts have always loved his defense. The glovework is showing up with WAR in the early going, the system giving him 5.7 UZR already and a 33.2 UZR/150. Obviously the sample size of 40 games and 313 innings is very small and the numbers probably exaggerated, but it is always nice when the early numbers do match up with the scouting reports: the guy can field.
Scouting reports also say that he's got significant problems chasing pitches outside the strike zone, particularly breaking pitches. So far, that's exactly what's happened in the majors. He got away with this in Triple-A, but major league pitchers have exposed this weakness. Right now, his OBP is unacceptably low.
So what do I make of him? So far, Marte is exactly the player we should expect him to be based on his scouting reports and track record: physically talented, exciting to watch, a fine defender, but with significant flaws that crimp his offensive value. He turns 24 later this month and still has time to work his problems out, but there is no guarantee that he will. Many similar players have failed.
My take is that Marte will scuffle along for another year or two at his current level of inadequate offensive performance, then make some adjustments and have a run as a solid hitter in his late 20s. He won't be an offensive star or a tremendous OBP source, but I think he can get to the point where he hits enough to play regularly for a decent team. However, when he ages and starts to lose his defensive skills, his value will slip quickly.