When Should Starling Marte Be Called Up?

In my rankings last September for my blog “Bloggin Buccos”, Starling Marte was the #3 prospect in the Pirates’ organization.  He was coming off a year where he hit for a .332 average and an .870 OPS, along with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases.  He followed his stellar 2011 campaign with a great offensive showing early in spring training this year with the major league club, hitting .520 with a 1.440 OPS and three home runs in 25 at bats.  This had many fans calling for the team to keep Marte on the major league roster to start the season, but management made the right decision by sending him to AAA Indianapolis to work on plate patience and to get time at the corner outfield positions, where he will most likely play as long as Andrew McCutchen is in center for the Pirates.  But having Marte one step away from the majors in AAA leads to the question, when will he get the call?
Marte’s arrival in the majors really depends on a couple factors.  Obviously, one of them is how he is performing in AAA.  If he continues to hit like he has, then it will be very difficult for the Pirates to keep him down.  The other factor in his call up will be how Alex Presley and Jose Tabata perform.  If one of these two struggle, then that will lead to a higher possibility of Marte getting the call.  Likewise, if both of these players exceed expectations, then that will lower the chances of Marte having a spot on the major league roster.  If Marte doesn’t respond well to the more advanced AAA pitching, it will not matter how Presley and Tabata hit, and will show that Marte needs more time in the minors.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Marte needs to work on his plate patience and get more experience in left and/or right field before he can be called up to the majors.  In his minor league career leading up to this season, he has struck out in 21.6% of his at-bats.  That’s not too bad, and he even lowered his strikeout rate to 18.7% in 2011.  However, he has a career walk rate of 4.7%, and 3.8% in 2011.  That is bad.  Obviously, this hasn’t really affected his performance too much in the minors, but if he continues this, major league pitchers will exploit this weakness.  Marte is an aggressive hitter, many times swinging at pitches that are not in the strike zone.  But, if he would allow these pitches to go buy as balls, he would get more walks and see better pitches to hit later in the count.  Not only would this raise his on base percentage, it could also raise his average because of the more hittable pitches.
Marte is a very good defensive centerfielder, probably better than McCutchen.  However, he has very little experience at the corner outfield positions in the higher levels, and in spring training, he looked a little lost at those spots.  For the Pirates, Marte will most likely play left field, where he has only played seven times in the minors.  Being a good fielder, this shouldn’t take long for Marte to adjust to, but it is better to get him used to the position in the minors, rather than with the major league club.  PNC Park has a very large left field, so it will be good having a player with Marte’s speed and defense to man that position.
So, when should Marte get called up?  The earliest time I could see the Pirates calling up Marte is early to mid June.  This will give the team enough time to evaluate his performance at AAA, and to see how Presley and Tabata handle themselves at the majors.  If Marte is hitting .300-.315 or better with an OPS of over .820 and his strikeout and walk numbers improve, then he should get serious consideration by the beginning of July.  Even if Presley and Tabata are hitting well, you can’t ignore Marte’s talent and potential impact on the team, and it really wouldn’t benefit him to stay in AAA.  In the majors, Marte could be an .300+ hitter with 15-20 homers a year, with great speed and great defense.  The Pirates could have a very good duo with Marte and McCutchen, and hopefully we will get a taste of what that is like at some point this summer.

Michael Mawhinney-follow me @mikemaw45 and read http://www.blogginbuccos.blogspot.com

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