Prospect of the Day: Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Starling Marte won the Double-A Eastern League batting title with a .332 mark. He didn't receive a September promotion to the major league roster, but it's likely we will see him in the majors sometime in 2012.
Marte was signed by the Pirates in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic for $85,000, which would be a bargain if everything works out. After two summers in the Dominican Summer League, he made his North American overture an impressive one with West Virginia in the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2009, hitting .312/.377/.439 with 24 steals in just 54 games. A broken hamate bone limited him to just 60 games for High-A Bradenton in 2010, where he hit .315/.386/.432 with 22 steals but didn't hit a home run.
Moved up to Double-A Altoona this year, Marte had a season of full health, playing 129 games and hitting .332/.370/.500 in 536 at-bats. He hit 38 doubles, 12 homers, and stole 24 bases. On the negative side, he drew just 22 walks while fanning 100 times. He led the Eastern League in hitting, tied for the lead in doubles, and ranked fifth in OPS.
At age 22, Marte is a premium athlete, listed at 6-2, 170 pounds. His best tool is outstanding speed. He also has a strong throwing arm, and is already an excellent defensive outfielder, collecting 18 assists this year and showing plus range in center field. His speed looks good on the bases too, although he needs to improve his stealing technique, having been caught 12 times this year in 36 attempts.
Marte has plenty of bat speed, although before this year scouts worried that he might not be strong enough to hit for a lot of power. With another year of physical maturity and some distance from the hamate injury, he drove the ball more effectively this year and showed usable power in games, especially to the gaps.
His main weakness at this stage is spotty plate discipline, especially against breaking pitches. He's aggressive and can hack at bad pitches excessively, but the Pirates are well-aware of his weakness and have worked with him to improve his zone judgment. He doesn't have to become a walk expert, but even marginal improvements will help him get better pitches to drive. Marte's speed helps keep his batting-average-on-balls-in-play at high levels, including .390 this year and .424 last year.
Marte is an exciting talent, but he could use a year of Triple-A to put the finishing touches on his hitting and basestealing. We should see him sometime in 2012.