Starling Marte has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling Altoona offense this season, so his sudden slump earlier this month was a bit of a surprise. After hitting .312 for the A-level West Virginia Power in 2009 and .315 for the A+ Bradenton Marauders in 2011, Marte currently has the Curve’s second-highest batting average, at .302. The Dominican native jumped out to a strong start, going .326 in April, then continuing with a .331 in May and .337 in June. But Marte hit a wall in early July. From July 3rd to the 15th, Marte managed only one hit in 29 at-bats. He began recovering over the last week, going 9-for-34 (.265), giving him a .181 average so far in July.
Two concerns about Marte have always been his plate discipline and his power production. Marte walked only 12 times in 221 AB’s in 2009 and another 12 times in 222 AB’s in 2010 (4.8%). This season, while playing full-time and piling up 368 AB’s, Marte has walked just 14 times, about evenly scattered over the season. Meanwhile, he has the second-highest strikeout total on the Curve: 75 K’s. That’s a 20% K rate, which is a bit of an improvement over the past two seasons (25% in 2009 and 23% in 2010).
Marte’s power production has not improved as hoped over the past few seasons. After having the hook of his hamate bone removed last season (after a wrist injury) was expected to limit his power, but it doesn’t appear to have made much difference either way — he didn’t have much power before, and he still doesn’t have much after. He has hit 5 triples (same as last season) and 5 home runs (5 more than with Bradenton last year) this season, but still carries a .435 SLG, comparable to his past two seasons. He does lead the Curve with 24 doubles. The Pirates have some hope that there is still some time — the 22-year-old could find more power as he continues to develop over the next few years.
But low power and troublesome plate discipline is secondary to the fact that Marte is considered to be at the top of the Pirates’ position player prospects list. He has the superior speed and above-average arm strength needed to do well in center field, which is where he has played most of his games over the past several seasons. He has committed fewer errors in the outfield this season (5 this year, 7 in previous seasons), though that is admittedly a small sample size. His defensive performance and high batting average should be enough to earn Marte a promotion to Indianapolis by the end of this season. That could put him on track for a major league debut in 2012.