by John Franco
Leave it to Twitter to come up with a clever hashtag for everything. First we had #Strasmas (when Stephen Strasburg came up to the major leagues for his first start), then #MattMoorialDay (for Matt Moore‘s first start), and now we have #MartePartay in honor of Starling Marte being called up by the Pirates.
Marte will be joining the team in Houston on Thursday, and the corresponding move was optioning Evan Meek to Triple-A. The Pirates still need to clear a roster spot for newly acquired Wandy Rodriguez, and since they swapped a pitcher for an outfielder to get Marte, odds are they’ll swap an outfielder for a pitcher and send Drew Sutton down to make room for Wandy. (Sutton was also a Twitter phenomenon for a while, but he is 3-for-27 since July 8th and it’s probably safe to say that he’s turned back into a pumpkin, especially since he’s not very good defensively.)
For the season, Marte hit .286/.340/.600 in 384 at bats for Triple-A Indianapolis. There has been a lot of debate about whether he’s really ready for the major leagues, but given the production the Pirates are getting from players like Sutton and Alex Presley, the club felt that Marte deserved a chance to make a big first impression. Marte will certainly be an exciting player to watch: he has the tools to be a plus defender in either corner, flash some speed, and drive some extra base hits. The only question is whether his plate discipline will allow him to keep his batting average above water.
Marte’s minor league splits show that he hit .236/.274/.382 in May, with a walk rate of just 3.1%. After that rough month, he went on to hit .325/.385/.558 with a 7.4% walk rate in June, followed by .293/.363/.554 with a 7.8% walk rate in July. His strikeout rate got slightly worse each month (19.8% in May, 20% in June and 22.5% in July) which is a concern for the Pirates. Marte will need solid plate discipline if he wants to succeed quickly; Alex Presley had a similar 7.6% walk rate at Triple-A last year and still carries a .270 OBP this year in the majors because he has struggled to command the strike zone.
It seems likely that the Pirates will start Marte in left field, continuing to play Garrett Jones in right field and Casey McGehee at first base. Jones has a line of .240/.269/.400 against lefties, and McGehee has a line of .227/.279/.352 against righties. In other words, the Pirates still need another bat even after calling up Marte, which would allow them to platoon Jones and McGehee at first base. Marte could handle right field if the Pirates traded for someone like Shane Victorino or Denard Span, or stay in left field if the Pirates acquire a more traditional right fielder.
Regardless of the other moves the Pirates make before the trade deadline, Marte will inject some excitement into their lineup, and hopefully be the first good player the Pirates’ farm system has produced since
Neil Walker Pedro Alvarez.