STARLING MARTE, CENTER FIELDER
|Born: October 9, 1988
Height: 6′ 1″
Signed: Int. FA, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2007
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: Peter E. Greenberg & Associates
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|After a slow start in his first minor league season, Marte quickly established himself as a top prospect. He’s an exceptional athlete with great speed, a strong bat with moderate power, tremendous range in the outfield, and an excellent arm. The primary questions about him as a prospect were his ability to hit for power and to lay off pitches. He largely answered the first question in 2011, leaving his very weak plate discipline as the main concern. Once he reached the majors, he quickly became one of the Pirates’ best players. He’s also been one of the most underrated players in the majors, due to the value he adds with his speed on the bases and his defense in left, where’s he’s by far the best defender in the majors. Throughout his career, he’s tended to get hit with a lot of pitches for some reason, which could lead to injury problems.
Marte did little at the plate in his initial DSL season. He played left field that year.
After bulking up some, Marte made major strides in his second DSL season. The weak plate discipline was in evidence.
The Pirates kept Marte in extended spring training and sent him to the GCL once its season opened, but after just two games he moved up to West Virginia. He got off to fast start and never stopped hitting. His OBP was buoyed by a dozen hit batsmen, and this was in less than half a season. For his career he’s averaged one every 26 plate appearances. He did well on the bases, but rarely walked. Marte played some in right, but about two-thirds of the time in center. His defense was spectacular at times, but at others he botched routine plays; had seven errors in less than half a season. At year’s end, Pirates moved Marte up to Lynchburg with idea of him playing in Carolina League playoffs, but a sprained ankle in first game scuttled the plan.
Marte opened in center with the new high A affiliate in Bradenton. He got off to an outstanding start, hitting .345 in April, but slumped in May. The slump was probably due to a wrist injury that he tried to play through; he ended up having the same hamate surgery Pedro Alvarez had. Marte returned in August and batted .358 for the month, so the injury seems to have had no lasting effects. He hit for gap power, but had no HRs. Hamate surgery tends to sap power, but obviously Marte had no HRs before the surgery. He continued to walk only rarely, while his K rate of slightly more than one every four ABs was not alarming, but was a lot for a guy not hitting HRs.
At Altoona, Marte finally put in a full season. Up to that point, he’d largely been dismissed by the minor league mavens due to the lack of power, but while he still has doubters, Marte forced his way into the top prospect discussion. Except for a slump in July, his hitting improved throughout the season, culminating in a huge August line of 393/437/650. He even started to draw a few walks, with seven against 16 Ks, although his season total was very low. His power started coming around, with 38 doubles, eight triples and 12 HRs. That last figure was four times his total from the previous two years, excluding two hit in a GCL rehab stint. Marte finished with a .332 average, winning the Eastern League batting title. His base stealing efficiency slipped, as he got caught in a third of his tries. In the field, he had 18 outfield assists.
Marte spent most of the season as the regular centerfielder for Indianapolis and was chosen by Baseball America as the league’s second best prospect. He got some time in the corners in view of the fact that he wasn’t going to be pushing Andrew McCutchen out of center. He started off somewhat slowly, but hit increasingly well, posting an OPS over .900 in both June and July. His power continued to improve and his walk rate did, too, but his K rate also increased. His base stealing technique continue to show a need for improvement. The Pirates called him up in late July and he hit a HR on the first pitch he saw in the majors. He continued hitting about the way his track record suggested, showing good power but struggling with offspeed stuff, leading to a lot of strikeouts. He suffered a strained oblique in late August and missed nearly three weeks. Clint Hurdle didn’t quite seem committed to Marte and benched him for a stretch in late September, a move explained only by a rambling, psychedelic Hurdle monologue. Only the Pirates would call their best hitting prospect up and then bench him after they were out of the playoff hunt. Marte played left and showed impressive range; his defensive stats were off the charts, although the sample size was very small. His base stealing efficiency was about the same as in the minors.
Marte spent the season as the Pirates’ left fielder and leadoff hitter, with the exception of a stretch from mid-August to late September, when he was out with a hand injury. When he came back, he was limited for a while to pinch running and defense, and probably was affected when he swung the bat. The injury may have accounted for him hitting .125 in the post-season. Apart from the injury, Marte’s hitting was about what should have been expected. He hit for a good average and good power, but his BB and K rates were alarming and do indicate some risk of collapse it he doesn’t stop expanding the strike zone. He used his speed to good advantage, getting a lot of infield and bunt hits. His stolen base percentage still needs to improve, but he finished third in the NL in steals and probably would have led the league if he hadn’t gotten hurt. He had a large platoon split, posting a 1.053 OPS against LHP and .724 against RHPs. The injury probably also kept him from leading the league in hit batsmen, as he finished with 24, just two behind the leader and nine ahead of the third highest total, which belonged to Neil Walker. Marte’s defense continued to be outstanding. If you go by Baseball Reference’s formulation of Wins Above Replacement, Marte was the tenth most valuable defender in the NL and also the tenth most valuable position player. (WAR is a counting stat, so Marte would have finished higher but for the time he missed.)
Near the end of spring training, the Pirates signed Marte to a contract extension of six years, plus two options years. The deal included a $2M signing bonus and escalators for the two option years, along with a $2M buyout. Once the season got underway, Marte got off to a rough start, posting just a .612 OPS in April. He started hitting better in May, but through July hadn’t really gotten hot. He was hampered throughout the season by minor injuries: back tightness cost him a few games in May; hamstring issues bothered him in May and June, although he didn’t miss much time; he suffered from concussion symptoms after taking a knee to the head sliding into second in late June, and also jammed his finger on the same slide, costing him several games; he missed over two weeks due to a concussion suffered in a beaning in late July; and he missed several games after being hit on the arm in September. (Despite the missed time, Marte tied for third in the majors in HBPs.) Marte also missed several games due to family issues. Nevertheless, he was one of the hottest hitters in baseball in the season’s second half, when he posted a 348/408/567 line after hitting 256/324/383 in the first half. Much of the difference was reflected in his K rate. He fanned in over a third of his ABs in April and almost a third in the entire first half. In the second half, he cut that to once every five ABs. For the season he also increased his walk rate a little. He had a slight reverse platoon split.
Marte’s performance in the field and on the bases was more mixed. He had a number of baserunning blunders, getting thrown out on the bases more than any other player in MLB. In the field, most of the advanced stats showed his performance dropping off from 2013, some of them dramatically so. The Pirates’ run prevention stats were problematic generally in 2014, though, as the advanced stats showed both the team’s pitching and defense to be terrible, yet the Pirates were a little above average in run prevention. Also, some of Marte’s injuries, especially the hamstring problem, may have affected him in the field.
Marte managed to avoid the bad start of the previous year. In fact, he was fairly consistent, with his only bad month (.674 OPS) being August. Overall, he didn’t produce quite as well at the plate as the previous year, with the main difference being a drop in his already-low walk rate. Data at FanGraphs shows that he swung at significantly more pitches, both in and out of the strike zone, although at the same time he actually reduced his strikeout rate. He had a mild reverse platoon split. The Pirates increasingly see Marte as a middle-of-the-order hitter; he got 58 starts batting second, 49 batting cleanup and 32 batting fifth. Defensively, the metrics showed him having a good year, some of it due to the 16 outfield assists he racked up, which led the NL and missed leading the majors by one.
Marte continued along the same lines, hitting for average with poor plate discipline and solid power. His average was buoyed by a .380 BABIP, which is high but not all that high for the very speedy Marte, whose career BABIP is .359. His OBP was buoyed, as usual, by hit batsmen. He was hit 16 times, which tied him for fifth in the majors even though he missed 33 games. Baseball Prospectus rated him fifth in the majors in runs created above average by baserunning. Marte continued to be one of the best defensive players in the game, showing great range, and finishing first in the NL and second in MLB in outfield assists. One area in which he picked up his game was stolen bases, as he finished third in the majors, again despite missing a lot of time. He had a reverse platoon split, with an .837 OPS against RHPs and .730 against LHPs. He missed much of September due to a back strain, which he aggravated when he tried to return, a pattern that’s becoming common with the Pirates.
During the off-season, the team finally announced they’d move Marte to center and McCutchen to right. The move didn’t last long, though, as two weeks into the season Marte was suspended for 80 games due to PED use. The suspension was a devastating one for the team, as it ended up using a variety of inadequate alignments in the outfield, partly also due to Gregory Polanco’s many problems. Marte wasn’t hitting well when he was suspended, with a .659 OPS in 13 April games, and he struggled after he returned, batting just 238/313/287 in his first 25 games. Over the season’s final six weeks, he hit 312/363/442. He struggled severely against LHPs, albeit in a small sample size, with a .404 OPS. Marte moved back to left when he returned and continued to be an outstanding defender there. He was probably only a little above average in center. He threw runners out at about the same rate as always.
With McCutchen gone, Marte became the Pirates’ center fielder for good. He bounced back well from his disastrous 2017 season, setting career highs in home runs and slugging percentage. He showed marginally more patience than he had in some seasons, but his OBP didn’t get its usual boost from hit batsmen, as he got hit at roughly half his career rate. He did miss a few games at the end of July after getting hit on the hand. He also missed the last ten days of May with an oblique strain, returning sooner than players usually come back from that injury. Maybe not coincidentally, Marte’s two extended slumps during the season immediately followed the two injuries: he had a .568 OPS in June and .652 in August. Marte finished third in the NL in steals, but led the majors in getting caught. He frustrated fans at times by exhibiting a less-than-ideal level of effort. In fact, Clint Hurdle, who’s notorious for his lack of concern when veteran players don’t hustle, benched Marte for one game for exactly that reason. By most fielding metrics, he was a little above average in center. He had ten outfield assists, which tied him for fourth in the league.
Marte bounced back well from his 2017 problems. He seems to be developing into more of a power hitter as he gets older. It’s intriguing to wonder how he might do if he stayed healthy all year, but that may never happen. The Pirates control his rights for three more years and he remains a valuable player.
|2021: up to $13,500,000 with escalators (team option)
2020: up to $12,500,000 with escalators (team option)
2013: Major League Minimum
2012: Major League Minimum
|Signing Bonus: $85,000
MiLB Debut: 2007
MLB Debut: 7/26/2012
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2022 (if options exercised)
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2011
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2012)
MLB Service Time: 5.163
|January 4, 2007: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent.
November 18, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.