In 2002, at the tender age of 18, Andy Marte led the Appalachian League in RBI, was second in home runs, and had a composite line of .281/.344/.492. That performance made Marte an interesting prospect to be closely followed in 2003. This past summer, in the Carolina League, Marte had another solid performance and jumped to grade-A prospect status. Baseball Prospectus minor league expert David Cameron said that Marte was the player “that most amazed me” in his most recent chat.
Marte is getting regular playing time at the Dominican Winter League as the third baseman of the Azucareros del Este club, and he was kind enough to have a brief conversation with Baseball Prospectus. We interviewed Marte before his team most recent game at the Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris.
Baseball Prospectus: Can you tell us a little about your background, how you were signed, by whom, and how was the process to become a professional ballplayer for you?
Andy Marte: I’m from San Francisco de Macorís, and as every Dominican, played baseball since I was a kid. I played in a local league named “Liga Rafael Mena” and Mr. Mena himself saw that I had talent. He started to work with me, getting me ready and prepared to eventually sign for pro baseball. During that time, we found an attorney named Leo Mercedes and he became some sort of an agent for us. Then we were able to get non-immigrant visas from the U.S., eventually travel there, and the Braves signed me in Atlanta for a very good bonus.
BP: So that means you were actually signed in the United States, right?
Marte: Yes I was; I signed in Atlanta.
BP: But you were not eligible or selected in the Draft?
Marte: No I was not, I just happened to sign outside the Dominican, but it was as a free agent.
BP: You just played this past summer in the Carolina League, and had a very good season, but tell us about your first two years in professional baseball.
Marte: Well I played my first year in the Appalachian League, a Rookie level, playing night games. I didn’t have a good season (.200/.310/.272), I guess I was still trying to adapt myself to a completely different way of life on my own, far away from my family. My second year was much better, I played in the South Atlantic League, and have good numbers, hitting .281-21-105. I kept making good progress and this past season played at Myrtle Beach (High Class A, FSL) where I hit .285-16-63 (with 67 walks, a .372 OBP and .469 SLG), thank God it was a fine season and I’m still working hard to continue advancing and hopefully make it to the big leagues.
BP: What kind of adjustments did you make to advance so quickly, from having a sub-par first season at the rookie level to become one of the top-prospects in all of baseball, all that in two years?
Marte: Again, I worked very hard. I have never played at a level so advanced in my life when I first came here, so it was a process of adaptation, and it was very tough from the personal standpoint. It was very frustrating, it seemed like everything I did turned out badly, and not many good things were happening to me. That off-season I promised to myself to be mentally and physically ready for the next season, that way I was going to be able to develop more quickly, and have a better performance.
BP: When the minor league analysts talk about you, one of the first aspects of your game they point out is the advanced control of the strike zone for a guy your age. What do you think are your strong points as an offensive player, and what exactly is your approach at the plate?
Marte I’m not the kind of guy that goes to the home plate trying to guess what the pitcher is going to throw me. What I do its try to have a good look on the ball, and swing at a good pitch. At least that is what my hitting instructors always have taught me to do. Their advice is: if one day you’re not looking the ball well, don’t try to swing at everything and without control. I think I am well prepared in that regard.
BP: Does that means that you don’t go to the plate just looking for a certain pitch on a certain count, but instead trying to actually recognize what pitches the pitcher is throwing? Do you think you have good skills in this particular aspect of the offensive game?
Marte: Yes, yes. Thank God I think I’m well prepared and good at it. In addition, as the time goes by, every day I expect to get better. This league (the Dominican) is not an easy one for young players like me, and probably I’m going to struggle a little bit, but let’s see what happens.
BP: Let’s move now to your defensive game, what’s to improve in that regard, and how do you rate your defense at this point?
Marte: I’m making progress. My infield coach is Rafael Belliard, and he works a lot with me on my defense. He says I need to work hard to improve fielding slow grounders and barehanded bunts, also fielding backhanded with my glove. Those are my main weaknesses right now. Again, I’ve made progress and will keep working every day to improve those and the other aspects of my defense.
BP: What plans have the Braves for you next year, what have they told you?
Marte: Well, I’m going to be at the big league spring training. I think they have no plans to re-sign Vinny Castilla (a broad smile appeared in his face when we told him that Vinny was not a Brave anymore) so they want to watch me more closely at the big league camp. They say anything can happen, so I am going to get ready.
BP: Don’t you think that to start the season at Double-A is better for your development process, given your very young age?
Marte: Oh sure, I know that I’m assigned to play at Double-A next year, I’m ready for that and I don’t have any problems whatsoever. However, I don’t know what kind of performance I’m going to have at the training camp, and if it happens to be a good one, maybe they keep me on the big club.
On the other hand, I doubt it. This is going to be just my fourth year, and I don’t think they’re interested in rush me.
BP: This is your first extended experience in the winter league, and so far, you’ve played very well, with pretty good strike-zone judgment for a kid your age. How do you evaluate your experience in this league and how you compare it to the others you have played?
Marte: It’s a lot of difference. Last year I had three at-bats and realized how tough this league is. This year I played at a more advanced level, and had the opportunity of see more experienced pitchers. That has helped me to feel more comfortable in this league, and have a better understanding of the strike zone, and what some of these veteran and more advanced pitchers are trying to do with me.
BP: As you touched the subject, what is the main difference between this league pitching and the other pitching you’ve seen?
Marte: Wow, a lot. You cannot look for a specific pitch here. All of the sudden you’re facing some big league pitcher, or worse yet, a veteran that’s pitching at Mexico, or Japan or some place where they throw a lot of junk. Because of that, it’s very difficult to make the adjustments, because sometimes I’ve never seen some of those pitches in my whole life.
BP: You’ve played in some difficult environments for hitters lately, in the summer at the big parks in the FSL, and now in the Dominican League, and in top of that half your games are at the league’s most difficult stadium at La Romana. What kind of adjustments, even mental ones, are necessary not to get frustrated trying to fight against a hostile environment?
Marte: I guess it is important to avoid swinging for the fences every single time. What I do is try to use the whole field, swinging to the middle and not become too pull-conscious. The home-runs will come, you know. You just need to relax at the plate and swing at good pitches.
Baseball Prospectus thanks Andy Marte for the time he spent talking to us.
For news, updates, and stats from the Dominican Winter League, check out the league’s official Web site–the articles are in Spanish, but OBP is still OBP. Carlos Lugo is the TV voice of the Estrellas de Oriente ballclub and has worked for FOX the last five Dominican Winter League seasons broadcasting games. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.