Once upon a time, in a land far far away, Andy Marte was considered one of the best prospects in all the land. The Dominican third baseman signed with the Atlanta Braves back in 2000, and by the time 2004 season came to an end, few doubted that he was a future star.
Marte had the glowing scouting reports. In its 2005 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America gushed that his “ability to drive the ball to all fields is outstanding and getting better”, while also claiming that “his potential as an all-around impact player is unquestioned.”
Marte had the numbers as well. As a 19 year-old playing in the High-A Carolina League in 2003, the righty batter compiled a .285/.372/.469 line in 541 plate appearances. His K rate was somewhat high (20.1% of his PA), but not prohibitively so. Marte displayed power (.184 ISO) and patience (12.4 BB%) as a teenager in advanced A-Ball, a level where most players are closer to the legal drinking age.
The 6-1, 205 pounder followed that up with another tasty .269/.364/.525 triple-slash in 450 PA at AA Greenville in 2004. He maintained his control of the zone (12.9 BB%), while hitting for a ton of power (.256 ISO). The K rate crept up a little (23.3%), but it wasn’t as though he was the Chris Davis of the Southern League or anything.
As a 21 year-old in the AAA International League in 2005, Marte managed to post a .275/.372/.506 line in 460 PA. It was more of the same for Marte: walks (13.9 BB%) and extra-base hits (.231 ISO) by the bucketful. Even his whiff rate headed in the right direction, as Marte punched out just 18 percent of the time. His first exposure to the major leagues was certainly nothing to brag about (.140/.227/.211 with Atlanta), but 66 plate appearances of poor hitting were hardly cause for great alarm.
It was mighty difficult to punch a hole in his prospect status at this point. Andy was young relative to the levels at which he played. He showed a keen eye at the plate. He seemed to tame his contact issues. Heck, even his defense was sweet. Marte looked like yet another home-grown star for the Braves.
Then, something very peculiar happened. The Braves traded their gifted young third baseman, shipping him to Boston for Edgar Renteria in December of 2005. Young, cost-controlled players are worth their weight in gold (and top-rated position players tend to fair the best), so seeing Marte switch unis was hardly expected.
Then, we seemed to enter the Twilight Zone when the Sox then re-gifted him to the Indians in January of 2006, as part of a trade to acquire Coco Crisp. A top-rated prospect traded twice in one-offseason? Nonetheless, Baseball America remained steadfast: Marte possessed “everything teams want in a third baseman”, according to the 2006 Prospect Handbook.
Now Tribe property, Marte was sent to AAA Buffalo to begin the ’06 season. The 22 year-old, who demolished the International League the prior year, was…just okay. In 394 PA, Marte batted a rather tame .261/.322/.451. His once-pristine control of the strike zone went a little south (8.7 BB%, 22.7 K%), but the Indians were still anxious to try out their shiny new hot corner prospect. The club called him up in late July. Marte’s first extended time in the bigs wasn’t really anything to write John Schierholtz about, though. In 178 PA, Andy hit .226/.287/.421, with a 7.3 BB% and a 23.3% whiff rate.
While Marte didn’t exactly hit the ground running in the majors, Cleveland was committed to letting him find his footing at the highest level. Or, at least it seemed that way. Marte made the team out of spring training in 2007, but then proceeded to flail to the tune of a .553 OPS in April. After just 41 PA, the Indians pulled the plug and sent him back to AAA.
Instead of re-establishing himself in the organization’s plans, Marte did a career face-plant. He batted just .267/.309/.457 in 379 PA. Shockingly, Marte’s once-pristine plate discipline went down the toilet. He walked just 5.6% of the time, while punching out 18.2 percent. Whether he was pressing to get back to the majors or not, Andy scarcely resembled the seemingly can’t-miss Braves prospect of years past. It was like he started getting batting tips from Juan Uribe.
2008 was little better. In 257 PA with the Tribe, Marte posted a paltry .221/.268/.315 line. He didn’t wildly hack at every pitch seen (Marte’s Outside-Swing% was right around the 25% MLB average), but Andy often found himself down in the count. His First-Pitch Strike% was 63.4% (58.6% MLB average). In survival mode and in the pitcher’s clutches, Marte walked just 5.6% and K’d 22.1%. His power (.094) was non-existent.
How far had Andy fallen in the eyes of talent evaluators? The Indians designated him for assignment this past winter, and no one claimed him. No other GM felt the out-of-options third baseman was worth a look.
Just when it looked like Marte would have to buy a ticket to get back into a big league stadium, he went on a tear at AAA Columbus in 2009. Andy clubbed opposing pitchers for a .327/.369/.593 line in 326 PA, with a robust .267 ISO.
What are we to make of Marte at this point? On the positive side, he’s hardly ancient at 25 years of age, was going postal on International League competition, and his 16.7 K% was rather low. On the other, he’s still not working the count all that well (6.8 BB%), and a .345 BABIP suggests that his batting average-driven line will come down some.
Prior to the 2009 season, CHONE was the most optimistic projection system regarding Marte’s future (.248/.316/.421). But that forecast does not take into consideration his resurgent hitting at AAA (per Minor League Splits, Marte’s Major League Equivalent line is .292/.326/.498).
The truth probably lies somewhere in between those two lines. While it’s not a perfect comparison, Marte calls to mind a Joe Crede-type, with good pop and a slick glove helping to compensate for an aggressive, lower-OBP approach at the plate (it’s strange to say that about a guy who used to walk in upwards of 13% of his PA, but that was a long time ago now).
From a fantasy perspective, Marte is well worth a look in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. With Ryan Garko gone, Andy should get a decent amount of playing time at first base when V-Mart is behind the dish (though it’s possible he might have to contend with Matt LaPorta at some point, if the Indians don’t like his range in the outfield corners). While he seems like a long shot to reach those prognostications of stardom, Marte is at least back on the radar screen.