Before the organization decides to promote outfield prospect Starling Marte from Triple-A, they want to make sure he’s ready. It has nothing to do with the trade deadline, Manager Clint Hurdle shot that theory down on Friday saying, ”I don’t think it probably has as much thump as if something’s being made of it.” It has to do with experience in Indianapolis. When Marte is brought up, they want to make sure he’s in Pittsburgh to stay and doesn’t have to go through some of the challenges some other younger Pirates have endured.
“He’s making progress,” Hurdle said. “He’s heading in the right direction. [Assistant General Manager] Kyle Stark was just with us. He had been down there previously. [Hitting Coordinator] Jeff Livesey, I talked with today. He’s with the club right now as we speak. We’re trying to get him some experience at both corners as well as center field depending on which might be for us at the appropriate time if and when he would be called up.”
“I think it’s just making sure that we don’t miss on the personnel that we have here either. It’s not about anybody standing in his way. It’s not like that we have so much outfield depth that we can’t bring him up. Not at all.”
What Hurdle did say they continue to look at is the number of at-bats Marte has had in Triple-A so far, versus some of the players now in the majors that have had success.
Andrew McCutchen had a total of 713 at-bats at the Triple-A level. He spent the entire 2008 season there, and played in 49 games in 2009 before being promoted to Pittsburgh. Since then, McCutchen has been arguably the best Center Fielder in baseball and hasn’t needed a trip back to the Minors. Neil Walker, too, had plenty of at-bats in Indianapolis. Over parts of four seasons there, he combined for 1,093 before sticking in the Majors during the 2010 season.
But they’ve also had several young players who haven’t spent a lot of time at that level struggle in the Majors. Last season, Pedro Alvarez spent the season up and down with the big league club due to the challenges in Pittsburgh. And Alex Presley and Jose Tabata have both been demoted this year to work on their swing. Alvarez had just 242 at-bats before making his Major League debut, while Presley (272) and Tabata (224) had limited playing time in Triple-A before making their big league debuts as well.
“I think the think that we continue to think through is the number of at-bats that Andrew and Walker had in Triple-A versus the number that Alex, Tabata and Alvarez had,” Hurdle said. “Not that they’d be the same about, but with experience seems to be more stability once they get here. With the less experienced there’s been some challenges that go with it. This is a really exciting young player. It’s not going to sway us that we can’t call up him up until he gets 800 at-bats. It’s just the right time for the right reasons. We’re not afraid to bring him up in a pennant race. It’s just pulling the trigger at the appropriate time.”
Entering game action on Friday, Marte has had 359 at-bats in his first season at Triple-A. He’s hit for a .281/.344/.493 line over 93 games. Marte’s hit 11 long balls — just one shy of his career-high — while banging out 17 doubles and 13 triples and 19 stolen bases.
Recently Marte has been going through a struggle at the plate. Over his last 10 games he’s hitting for a .194/.293/.472 line with a 33% strikeout rate, after a hot month of June where he hit for a .325/.385/.558 line and fans were screaming for a promotion to help the Pirates club, who are just a half game back of first place. The organization has made it clear, however, that the focus is on Marte’s progression as a player. Marte has been recently seeing playing time in both right and left field, gearing up to roam the spacious outfield that PNC Park has.
“He’s got experience in center field,” Hurdle said. “He doesn’t have as much on the corners where he would profile for us. You look at our ballpark at home with the profile to left field with the [North Side Notch] out there, that would be exciting to see a guy like him. We’ve already saw Gorkys [Hernandez] run some balls down out there, what he’s shown out there. It’s a similar type skill set.”
“I’m very confident for any young player that’s coming up that the climate that we have in this clubhouse that it would be good for him. Every young player that we’ve called up, every young player we’ve brought up from our own organization has been embraced. Kind of given the walking papers on how we do things around here. The way we walk, the way we talk. we’re all Pirates. The support has been awesome. I don’t anticipate it being any different in his case.”
The language barrier can be a challenge for any young player, not only a 23-year-old who would be in the Majors for the first time. Hurdle said that Pedro Alvarez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, like where Marte grew up, can also be a huge asset to help him gain comfort at this level.
“Pedro can be a great help and sounding board for a guy like Marte to come up,” Hurdle said. “That’s one of the things you talk about because you want to make sure you get your guys as comfortable as they can be.”