Prospect Smackdown: Anthony Gose vs. Starling Marte

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose (left) and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte (right). (Photos by Mark Cunningham [Gose] and Jeff Gross [Marte], Courtesy of Getty Images)

Prospect Smackdown: Anthony Gose vs Starling Marte

If you like athletic outfielders, you've come to the right place. Today's Prospect Smackdown focuses on a pair of uber-athletes, outfielder Anthony Gose of the Toronto Blue Jays and outfielder Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Let's get right to it.

BACKGROUND:

Gose: Anthony Gose was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round in 2008, from high school in Bellflower, California. Signed for a $772,000 bonus, Gose was considered a top prospect as a pitcher by many scouts, but he preferred to play every day and the Phillies obliged. The Phillies traded Gose to the Toronto Blue Jays (via Houston and a swap for Brett Wallace) in the 2010 Roy Oswalt deal and he has been one of their top prospects ever since. He plays with enthusiasm and works hard.

Marte:
Marte was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Dominican Republic in 2007, signing for $85,000. He wasn't one of the elite talents on the international market that year, but the Pirates liked his tools and so far he looks like a real bargain. He plays with enthusiasm and has worked hard to remedy his deficiencies.

Advantage:
Gose had a higher profile as an amateur, but Marte has come a long way in a short time and has more than justified Pittsburgh's judicious investment. Both players have good makeup, and I see no firm advantage either way here.

PHYSICALITY, TOOLS, AND HEALTH:

Gose: Gose is a 6-1, 190 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born August 10, 1990. A tremendous athlete, Gose is blazing fast (at least 70 on the 20/80 scouting scale), has an excellent throwing arm, is a terrific center fielder, and has the wiry strength to hit for at least average power. His swing is still a work in progress and he strikes out too much for comfort, but he began to show a better batting eye last year. He also dramatically improved his baserunning. He has had no major injury problems as a professional position player, but a sore shoulder was an issue while pitching in high school.

Marte: Marte is a 6-2, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 9, 1988. Marte is an excellent athlete with superior speed, 65-70 on the 20/80 scale. He has a strong throwing arm and has great instincts in the outfield, making him a plus/plus defender in center. Marte has made progress refining his swing and driving the ball for more power, but he remains impatient and seldom draws walks. He's an aggressive runner but still learning how to use his speed properly. He missed part of 2010 with a broken hamate, but was healthy in '11 and showed no ill effects from the injury.

Advantage: Both of these guys have excellent tools, particularly strong in the speed and throwing departments. Both are terrific defensive outfielders. Both have wiry-but-strong builds that produce some power, but both of them also have rough approaches at the plate. Gose draws more walks at this point and works counts better, but he also swings-and-misses a lot more often than Marte. Gose is more effective at using his speed on the bases and is one-and-a-half years younger, so I think he merits a slight edge here.

PERFORMANCE

Gose: Gose hit .253/.349/.415 last year for Double-A New Hampshire in the Eastern League, with 20 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers, 62 walks, and 154 strikeouts in 509 at-bats. He swiped 70 bases while being caught just 15 times. He is a career .258/.334/.386 hitter, generally hitting in the .250-.260 range but improving his walk rate and showing more power each year. On the negative side, the strikeout rate remains very high, well more than once-per-game, which is a big red flag.

Marte: Marte hit .332/.370/.500 last year for Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League, with 38 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers, 22 walks, and 100 strikeouts in 536 at-bats. He swiped 24 bases but was caught 12 times. A career .309/.366/.453 hitter, he's maintained very high BABIP at each level while showing more Isolated Power last year. His walk rate is very low and his BB/K/PA ratio is unattractive, although his K-rate did drop a little last year. It remains to be seen if he can hit for that kind of average in the majors without a more mature approach.

Advantage: They both have flaws. Gose draws twice as many walks, but his strikeout rate is almost 50% higher than Marte's. From watching them play, I think Marte's swing and overall approach is more consistent than Gose's at this point, and right now Marte has the edge in performance.

PROJECTION

Gose: Nobody thinks Gose is going to win batting titles, but in an ideal world he can develop into a .250-.270 hitter with a decent OBP, 15 homers a year, 50+ steals a year, and stellar defense in center field.

Marte: If Marte can cut back on the strikeouts somewhat, ideally he can hit .280-.300 in the majors with 15 homers a year, 20-30 steals, and stellar defense in center field.

Advantage: Take your pick. Both players should produce moderate power. I can see their peak OBPs being quite similar, but each player getting there in a different way, with Marte more of a batting average guy and Gose needing to keep his walk up. Gose will likely be a bigger threat on the bases. Gose also has an advantage: he's a year and a half younger and that gives him a better spot on the age curve, although Marte isn't an old man by any means at age 23.

SUMMARY

I'd rate the intangibles as even, Gose a slight edge on tools, Marte an edge in current performance, and very close in projection with Gose's youth perhaps tipping him just a nose ahead. I have Gose as a Grade B+ in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book, ranked 26th on the Top 50 hitters list, with Marte a very strong B (almost B+) and ranked 37th.

I struggled with Gose's grade. His tools really stand out and he's made a lot of progress refining them, but his strikeout rate is scary enough to make me cautious. As I work on my Top 100 list (which should be out Friday), I continue to weigh the issues and you can bet that these two players will be very close to each other on the list.

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