Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Starling Marte came out swinging.
The rookie deposited the first MLB pitch he saw into the stands for a home run. It’s a fitting introduction for the young outfielder who possesses immense talent but his approach at the plate suggests he won’t fully tap into his potential unless he makes some adjustments.
A notoriously-aggressive hitter, Marte did not post a walk rate of more than 4.9% in his career until 2012 and bottomed out at 3.8% in 2011 at the double-A level. He has very good speed (although he’s raw as a base stealer) which has helped him maintain exceptionally high BABIPs in the minors making him appear to be a better hitter than he really is at this point. With that said, it’s not easy to hit .300 over the course of a full season and Marte has done it each season (in North America) up until 2012; he was hitting “just” .286 at the time of his recall.
Marte is a multi-tooled talent with the ability to hit for average if he waits for his pitch, rather than using his above-average hand-eye coordination and quick bat speed to make contact with pitchers’ pitches; it worked for Vladimir Guerrero but very few others have succeeded with that approach. Unlike Vlad, Marte strikes out too much with K-rates above 20% despite modest power that could produce 10-15 home runs annually. He also has good speed, but he has yet to grasp the nuances of base stealing (21-for-33 in ’12, 24-for-36 in ’11). Defensively, Marte is a strong fielder with gold glove potential with a little more polish. He possesses a strong arm, which should suit him well if he has to play right field thanks to the presence of Andrew McCutchen in center field.
Marte was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 18 and was two years older than the typical hot-shot international signee. He was not one of the “big names” on the market at the time and had to work hard to get recognized – especially after posting a .595 OPS and .220 batting average in his pro debut. His impressive physical attributes earned him another shot and he posted an .822 OPS, which earned him a ticket to North America in 2009. Prior to 2012, I ranked Marte as the sixth best prospect in the system, knocking him down for his plate approach. He was ranked right behind recently-traded outfield prospect Robbie Grossman and I kept him off the FanGraphs 100 top prospects list.
Marte is the type of talented young player that often bursts onto the scene and wows audiences for a few weeks or a month and then the league adjusts to him, forcing adjustments that are either made with the assistance of big league coaches after a short period of struggle or results in a demotion back to the minors. Marte is an exciting prospect but his early success should definitely come with a huge caution flag to not overrate his impact. If everything clicks, though, he could develop a similar offensive profile to New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.