One of my favorite parts of the recent Cleveland Pizza Feed was a conversation I had with one of our readers about the impossibility of this position:
“There are nearly 5,000 players in organized minor league baseball. How on Earth can you possibly know something about all of them?”
This was intended as a compliment, but the question is accurate, and is a truth that all minor league junkies face; we are bailing with a teaspoon. I see a lot of baseball games, talk with a lot of people who see more games than I do, and try to get a feel for every important player that you might want to know about, but it does not matter. Someone will always slip through the cracks, and I will inevitably jot down the lineup on my scorecard and ask myself, “Who is he?” Occasionally, one of these anonymous names stands out, and I go home intrigued by this new name to follow.
Last year, I made that remark when I scribbled the name Andy Marte on my scorecard during a game between Greensboro and Macon. I had made the drive to see Carlos Duran, who was drawing comparisons to Andruw Jones (which are, at this point, laughable), and because Macay McBride was pitching for Macon that night. I knew a little about Marte before the game started; he was listed at age 18, had spent 2001 hitting like a pitcher in the Appalachian League, and had a pretty solid start to the 2002 campaign. After watching him flash the most impressive package of tools and performance I had seen all year, I made sure to find out more about “this Marte kid” when I got home.
The Braves signed Marte on Sept. 13, 2000, one day after their ban on signing players from the Dominican Republic–part of the penalty for signing Wilson Betemit before he turned 16–ended. Atlanta scout Rene Francisco brought Marte to Turner Field to show John Schuerholz, in person, why they had to have this kid immediately. Marte put on an eye-popping display in batting practice, then signed for $500,000 dollars on the spot, that afternoon. Having learned from the Betemit fiasco, the Braves have been extremely careful to verify player ages since, and Marte’s age is almost universally accepted as legitimate.
His professional debut did not go as well as planned, but it is yet another example of why short-season statistics should be taken with a large grain of salt. Since his promotion to full-season leagues, Marte has shown great improvement, and is making himself into a complete hitter.
Year Age Level BA OBP SLG AB XBH BB K 2001 17 Rookie .200 .306 .272 125 7 20 45 2002 18 Low-A .281 .339 .492 488 57 41 114 2003 19 High-A .285 .372 .469 463 52 67 109
Marte’s power is among the best in the game, and his extra-base hit totals are nearly unheard of for a teenager in full-season ball. Forty-one percent of his hits the past two years have gone for extra bases, which places him squarely in line with the elite sluggers in the game. While his average and power remained almost unchanged from 2002, Marte showed an improved ability to take the base on balls. After drawing walks in just 8% of his at-bats in the South Atlantic League, he raised that number to 14% this season, despite playing against better competition in the Carolina League. His power numbers fell slightly, and most people attribute that to playing half of his games in Coastal Federal Field, one of the most extreme pitchers’ parks in baseball. However, Marte did not seem to notice, as his performance at home was better than his performance on the road.
AB BA OBP SLG 2B 3B HR BB K Home: 209 .306 .390 .502 18 1 7 29 48 Road: 234 .282 .366 .466 16 0 9 31 55
These numbers are courtesy of SI.com, but oddly have omitted his last 20 at-bats of the season. They also do not include sacrifices, so the on-base percentages are approximate.
Myrtle Beach is where hitting prospects go to die, but Marte showed that his skills can translate regardless of the ballpark he is playing in. His ability to succeed despite playing in such a tough environment is simply another notch in his belt. Few 19-year-olds hit well in the Carolina League, and to do so in Coastal Federal Field is even more impressive.
His performance simply reinforces what the Braves saw in him at a young age: This kid can hit. At 6’1″ and 180 pounds, he isn’t the most intimidating hitter around, but pitchers quickly learn that he can drive the ball. His swing mechanics are sound, as he has little wasted motion. His quick wrists generate serious power, even though he doesn’t have a prototypical slugger’s build. He can tend to overswing when he is sitting on a fastball, but that is something that can be remedied with good coaching.
Marte chased a lot of high fastballs last year, but has clearly worked on his approach at the plate. His hitting zone is noticeably smaller this season, and he rarely chases pitches up in the zone anymore. He is still learning to recognize hard breaking balls from right-handed pitchers, which is his largest area of weakness at the moment. He can get frustrated if you consistently pitch him down and away, where his power is most neutralized. However, his patience at the plate has greatly improved each time I have seen him, and he is a much smarter hitter now than he was a year ago.
Defensively, he has the ability to be a well above-average defensive player. His reactions are terrific at third base and he has very good hands. He charges the ball well and has solid footwork. His arm strength is average for the position, but he is an accurate thrower who gets the ball off quickly. He needs repetition to improve the nuances of fielding, but there should be no concern about his future position. With enough hard work, he can be an asset in the field as well as at the plate.
The one tool he lacks is speed, but he is not a base-clogger. He is an average runner, though his thick legs will likely cause him to lose speed in the next few years. With his bat, though, no one will care. Marte is one of the premier power prospects in the game, and his improving strike zone judgment gives hope that he could become a classic cleanup hitter. While we have yet to see how he will adjust to Double-A pitching, there are few prospects in baseball that are as intriguing as Andy Marte.