When rookie Starling Marte was promoted to the big leagues for his long awaited debut on July 26th, Manager Clint Hurdle gave the young outfielder advice — to respect everything and fear nothing. The message seemed to have soaked in when he stepped to the plate for the first time in the Majors in Houston. Marte took the very first pitch he saw from left-hander Dallas Keuchel and launched it to left field for a leadoff solo-homer. Marte became just the second Pirates player to homer on the first pitch of his career. The other was Walter Mueller on May 7, 1922.
“Very excited,” Marte said of his first big league at-bat through first base coach Luis Silverio. “[I] can’t describe the emotion that [I] felt in that first at-bat. It’s something that [I’ve] dreamed about. When [I] came to the big leagues, the first pitch [I] was going to see, [I] was going to swing. And luckily [I] connected for a home run.”
“We’ve had a lot of talks,” Triple-A Manager Dean Treanor said. “I saw him in the Dominican last winter, so we were familiar with each other. We built a good relationship. He talks about me being his American father. This guy knows what he wants to do, what wants to do in this game. And here he is. He made an impact when he first got here. He’s a great kid, and couldn’t be happier for him.”
While he had an impressive debut against the Astros, it was his progression in Triple-A this season that allowed him to find success in his rookie season at just 23-years-old.
The outfielder was coming off being named the Pirates Minor League Player-of-the-Year after his 2011 season at Double-A Altoona. Marte won the Eastern League batting title and was named Rookie-of-the-Year after a .332/.370/.500 line with a career-high 38 doubles and 12 homers with 24 stolen bases. Marte turned heads and raised the question that maybe he was ready to break camp with the Pirates out of spring training. Over 12 games with the big league club, Marte hit for a .520/.520/.920 line and two stolen bases, but was sent to Triple-A to start the 2012 campaign.
“Big strides, big strides,” Treanor said. “And that’s why he’s here. From the start of the season in April, to when he came here, he’s made some huge strides really in all aspects of the game. I think he got much more comfortable.”
Marte hit for a .282/.343/.492 line over 100 games before being promoted to the Majors. He tied his career-high 12 long balls while connecting for a career-high 13 triples.
“The biggest thing is that he got a little better strike zone discipline, awareness of what the pitchers were trying to do to him. There’s a lot of veteran pitchers in that league, which is why he was there and needed to be there and why I think he grew so fast. I think you see it here. He’ll still swing at balls out of the zone, but everybody does that. I think out of everybody down there, he made the biggest strides and the quickest.”
“The strike zone knowledge was the biggest improvement for me,” Marte said. “That was something that [I] worked on pretty hard on.”
After Marte’s impressive 2-for-4 debut, he went on to hit four home runs and two triples and a .253 average before suffering an oblique injury that forced him on the disabled list on August 18th. The Pirates lost their spark at the top of the lineup, and the impressive arm and speed in the spacious left field at PNC Park. Marte missed nearly three weeks and fought his way back at the plate. Marte started off with an 0-for-10 skid, before getting back on track.
“Injuries happen and I was a little frustrated, not being able to help the club,” Marte said. “But [I] came back with a positive mind and [I’m] pretty happy where [I] am now, especially after the first few games. [I] didn’t have my timing down, but right now, [I’m] feeling pretty comfortable at the plate.”
Marte has just one hit in his last six at-bats before combing for five in his 12 prior. Marte has impressed the most with his speed. The outfielder was touted for his set of wheels on both the base paths and in the field, and he’s already shown fans a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing.
The rookie tripled in three straight games while the club was in Chicago in September for the first time since Andrew McCutchen accomplished the same feat from June 19-21 in his rookie season in 2009. Marte became just the third in franchise history. Only Bob Elliott in June of 1940 tripled in three straight games. Marte has five so far over 152 at-bats this season and his 10 stolen bases marks the fourth straight season a Pirates rookie has swiped at least 10 bags in a season (Chase d’Arnaud recorded 12 last season, Jose Tabata had 19 in 2010 and Andrew McCutchen had 22 in 2009).
While the 23-year-old is still getting his feet wet, Marte entered the season as the Pirates top hitting prospect, and there’s no doubt that his future is bright.
“It’s been a very interesting year,” Marte said. “[I’ve] worked very hard from where [I’ve] come from. [I’m] still working hard to maintain that at the level that [I’m] playing at right now.”