Winter Leagues: Starling Marte Makes Winter Debut

On Wednesday night in the Dominican, fans got their first chance to see Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the same Escogido lineup. Marte made his season debut, hitting third in the lineup and he was the designated hitter. Polanco batted right in front of Marte in the lineup and he was playing his normal center field position.

Marte reached base twice in his Winter debut (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Marte reached base twice in his Winter debut (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Marte singled in his first at-bat, then got hit by a pitch. He struck out in the fifth inning, then again in the seventh. Marte finished his night 1-for-4 after flying out to center field in the eighth inning.

Gregory Polanco went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI. It was his second straight three hit game. Polanco is now hitting .331 over 41 games. The double was his tenth of the season.

Graham Godfrey started the game for Escogido and went two innings, giving up one run on five hits. He is still a free agent.

Carlos Paulino went 1-for-3 with a strikeout, before being pinch-hit for in the ninth inning. He is hitting .212 through 24 games.

Michael Martinez went 3-for-5 with a double and RBI. He has RBIs in all three games that he has played since signing with the Pirates. He also picked up an outfield assist for the second straight game.

In Puerto Rico, Benji Gonzalez went 1-for-4 with a single, run scored and a walk. He is hitting .371 through 12 games and has equaled his hit output(13) from last year in 26 Winter games.

Ivan De Jesus Jr. went 2-for-5 with two singles. He leads the league with 26 walks and is second with 18 runs scored.

From Tuesday night in Colombia, Harold Ramirez went 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch in his team’s 5-0 loss. He was playing his first game since the All-Star break. Ramirez went 2-for-3 with a triple and run scored in the All-Star game and on the season, he is hitting .358 in 22 games, with four doubles and three triples.

On Wednesday, the Pirates announced the signing of Elvin Ramirez, along with six other minor league free agents. Ramirez is pitching in the Dominican and the results are strong. In nine appearances, he has thrown eight shutout innings, giving up two hits and three walks, with seven strikeouts. He is on the Gigantes del Cibao club.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • johndw28

    John,

    Love the updates and thank you once again. I’ve tried to watch a fair amount of Escogido(though my footage sometimes grainy). I can’t remember where you were with Polanco’s timeline a few months ago but curious if you have seen anything which has changed your mind. I know there are a lot of other factors in play and we have yet to see how Tabata, Snider, etc fair in right field but let me just ask this: I understand it won’t happen but from a purely hypothetical sense not taking into account money, controllable years etc. If you plugged in Polanco in right field on opening day and played him for full season what do you think reasonable stat line would be allowing for growing pains, learning curve etc? Thanks so much

    • John Dreker

      I honestly believe that Polanco could step into the lineup on Opening Day and it wouldn’t hurt his progress, he could adjust on the fly. He has great plate patience and a good eye so he’s not a guy that is going to be overwhelmed at the plate. He can run the bases, play defense and he’s not out there making mental mistakes. Some people have pointed out that, while Polanco is definitely having one of the best two seasons in the Dominican League, the other person is Yamaico Navarro and his major league career hasn’t gone so well. I don’t think that is a knock against Polanco though, because Navarro is four years older than Polanco and he has played parts of four seasons in the majors, so when you’re comparing a 22-year-old to a player like that, not even taking into consideration the plus base running and defense/arm, it shouldn’t be thought of as a negative.

      While he obviously won’t make the Opening Day roster, I don’t see why he couldn’t step in after two weeks, which would give him just enough service time that the Pirates could have him for seven years instead of six. People point to the super two and cost, but you would be getting an extra 70+ games out of Polanco for that price and the cost is down the line, but someone like Polanco will be good enough and people are anticipating his arrival enough that you will make extra now with ticket/merchandise sales. So while he is more expensive long-term, short-term he is highly beneficial even off the field. If it was up to me, that is when he would arrive. He’s outplaying Starling Marte from last year in the Dominican, when he was the dominant player in the league. It should also be noted that the level of play is getting better in the Dominican, more major leaguers are showing up now to get their work in for the Winter.

      As far as a full-season stat line, I think you would see a .280 average with a decent amount of walks, 50 extra base hits(mostly doubles) and 40 stolen bases. If there is a knock against him arriving now, it’s that he will provide more power in the future, with those doubles/triples turning into homers. Most think that he will be a 25 homer guy down the line, while he may hit ten his first year and build up from there.

      • Pie Rat

        Looking at it that way, he essentially will have 90 extra base hits and be in scoring position a lot. That would seem to move Marte down to the 5th or 6th spot with Walker batting behind Marte. Why is Mercer always the 8th batter when his average is higher than most of the team.

        • John Dreker

          I was thinking/talking about the lineup with someone yesterday and the more I think about it, the more I’d like Polanco/Marte/McCutchen at the top. Polanco has the speed and plate patience/eye to excel in the lead-off spot, though down the line he should be a middle of the order guy, sort of like what Bonds did in Pittsburgh. Marte batting behind Polanco as a stolen base threat, and ahead of McCutchen, is going to see a lot of fastballs, so that should help him out with his K rate. And then McCutchen is McCutchen, so he will do what he does and then you have Alvarez behind him picking up the RBIs

          • Kevin_Young

            Your reasoning for Marte’s spot in the order is very wise. I’ve been back and forth on the order, but this has convinced me.

            • John Dreker

              I’ve been the same way, but I finally think this one makes the most sense based on Polanco in RF + the current roster. The Pirates are going to be getting 100+ steals from their outfielders by 2015. If you back that up with a couple big bats, aka Alvarez and someone else, you’re going to be scoring a lot of runs. With Martin, Walker, 1B and Mercer, the lineup will be deep and not filled with automatic outs

          • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

            The only reason I can think of why you wouldn’t want Marte batting second is the natural gap that opens up on the right side when the leadoff man gets on base. For that you would like a lefty batter, or a righty that can spray the ball all over.

            • John Dreker

              Another reason might be that Hurdle likes to bunt and Marte is one of the better ones on the team. It would kill me to see someone with Polanco’s speed get on to lead-off the game and get bunted over to 2B

              • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

                Hi John,

                I was able to find a spray chart for Marte (2012-2013) here:

                http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts.aspx?playerid=9241&position=OF&type=battedball

                Ground ball concentration is to the short stop side as you might expect.

                Also check this out:

                http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/splits/_/id/30830/type/batting3/starling-marte

                For his short career Marte has a batting average of .282 with no one on base and .254 with runners on (admittedly small sample size).

                http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/splits/_/id/29590/type/batting3/neil-walker

                Walker has a career batting average of .248 with no one on base and .298 with runners on.

                • John Dreker

                  I believe once you put Marte behind Polanco and ahead of McCutchen he is going to see more fastballs, so you could almost throw those results out the window. It’s a whole different situation from batting ahead of Barmes and the pitcher half the time. Polanco’s speed and McCutchen’s threat will get better pitches for whoever bats second and I’d like to see Marte’s speed at the top instead of further down in the order

                  • Y2JGQ2

                    John, you make some good points. Counter points though- Marte already sees a lot of fastballs as a leadoff hitter. Pitchers rarely start the game throwing offspeed stuff and noone wants to walk Marte with his speed and stolen base ability anyways. WIth his lack of plate disclipline, there is no reason for him to see more fastballs down in the order, even in front of cutch, in fact the stolen base threat in front of cutch even goes down some IMO because the threat of just walking cutch if he steals

                    • John Dreker

                      I’ll answer at the bottom because of how the replies look after too many

      • johndw28

        John thanks so much for your detailed input! I greatly appreciate it and remain very excited about the future.

      • emjayinTN

        John: If the Pirates follow their procedure employed in previous years, it will be June before we see Gregory Polanco. It is called that period for extra seasoning that is needed at AAA, but means that the team is safe that the player will not earn a year of MLB Service, nor get enough days to qualify as a Super Two. I think the Pirates did that for McCutchen, Walker, Alvarez, Marte, and Cole.

        The Pirates open a 10 game homestand against the Mets on June 26 – look for Jameson Taillon to start two games during that homestand and for Gregory Polanco to join what will then be the BEST Outfield in the Major Leagues!

        • stickyweb

          MJ, correct except for Walker. He was a Super 2. Not sure if the Bucs miscalculated on him or if they just didn’t use the same methodology. One difference now, though, is that the Bucs and their fans expect to contend this year. So if the production in RF is as bad as it was last year, and Polanco is tearing AAA up like it was winter ball, they should bring him up and not worry about the few million it will cost them in 2 years. Wow, it really is easy to spend other people’s money.

        • John Dreker

          That is very likely what will happen and for all except McCutchen from that group, I thought it was a good idea for the player’s progress. I also agree with Taillon needing at least half a AAA season. I think Polanco is good enough that he could move to the majors, but I don’t think at this point he would be a huge upgrade over Tabata, so leaving him in AAA until late-June/July won’t hurt. If Snider and/or Tabata aren’t playing well, then the Pirates have that option to call Polanco up early.

          Once you get to mid/late May though, you might as well keep him down an extra month, because the negative(super-two) then outweighs the positive of 30 or so extra games. I’d take the extra year of arb in exchange for 70+ extra games though and call him up around April 15th. Then Pirates fans will be watching the best outfield in baseball

    • IC Bob

      You must be having serious baseball withdraws if you are watching Dominican league baseball on your computer.

      • John Dreker

        With the sound off too! I wasn’t watching the game too close, just really watched Marte and Polanco and didn’t see their last at-bats. Wish I saw the ending, Carlos Santana hit a walk-off homer. As far as baseball withdrawals, I’ve watched the Caribbean League World Series during the Super Bowl twice, once with a party going on at my house. Not sure if it’s because I hate football so much, or just love baseball. Probably a combo

        • http://www.reverbnation.com/johnrussellskinner johnrussellskinner

          I feel your pain. I like to watch College football a bit, but after that, sports end for me until pitches/catchers report. I don’t watch NBA or NFL, and march madness is overshadowed by spring training.

        • IC Bob

          I appreciate yours and Tims love of the game it shows up in your writing. Thanks

          • John Dreker

            I appreciate the kind words from everyone here. I’m trying to keep the team relevant during the off-season, helps the time pass and the more I know, the better for the site. I’m always looking for something to add here. Covering Winter ball also helps with my Spanish!

  • Pie Rat

    It will be interesting to see Palanco and Marte in the same line-up. Marte is coming in a little rusty. Would you read anything into it if Palanco bats better than Marte?

    • John Dreker

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Polanco outplayed him because some players have a tough time just being inserted mid-season in the lineup. Most of the pitchers Marte will be facing, have been playing since October. He is in Spring Training mode, while others are already in mid-season form. Marte hit the ball well in his first at-bat, then got hit on the first pitch. In his third at-bat, he was facing Jose Diaz and went down swinging on some nice breaking stuff. Diaz played for Indianapolis in 2012 and has a great arm, but horrible work ethic. He’s been around in Winter ball since October

  • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

    “Marte singled in his first at-bat, then got hit by a pitch. ”

    So you’re saying he’s in mid-season form.

    • John Dreker

      He looked good in the first at-bat, he got hit on the first pitch, then he looked a little rusty after that. He’s probably going to need a little bit to adjust, though he has been taking batting practice with the team on and off for the last month

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      You’d need to add in the two K’s to suggest he’s in mid-season form.

      • stickyweb

        True dat Scott, though no mention of being thrown out trying to steal 3B with 2 outs. I love that guy and will adore him even more when the baseball instincts outweigh the youthful exhuberance

  • leadoff

    John, I am a little concerned that Polanco is playing too much, when is the Dominican season over?
    Also, do you know of any scouts that are at these games, I am sure there has to be a few.

    • John Dreker

      The regular season ends this Sunday. Then they start their playoffs and they run about a month. Escogido is good, so they will be one of the playoff teams. If they win it all, then they go on to play the Caribbean Series against the best team from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

    • John Dreker

      Didn’t mean to skip the scouting question. Scouts are at all of these games and the front office was even down there for a few days. Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle watched Polanco play at least twice.

  • IC Bob

    Thats a pretty good team that has Marte and Polonco playing together. It will be fun to watch those to and Cutch play together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    John….I have been on the ‘don’t be surprised if Polanco goes north with us in April’ bandwagon.

    It probably won’t happen, but I agree in that I think he could handle it.

    • John Dreker

      He will never make the Opening Day roster and it makes perfect sense. You literally need about ten days to start the season in AAA and you would get an extra year of control out of him. I don’t care how much better he is than your regular option(going on the assumption he is the best option) you have to keep him down in AAA to start the season. He isn’t going to make a huge difference in 8-10 games that you would give up a full year of control. I think he is good enough to be there on Opening Day, but there is no way I’d want him there. I’m in the “see you in Pittsburgh on April 15th” camp.

      In a perfect world though, Tabata and Snider both play well and Polanco can stay in the minors for at least half a season without #FreeCoffee hashtags everywhere you look

    • leadoff

      Polanco will go to ST and he could hit 500 and Hurdle could beg, borrow and plead for him and the media will go out of their minds and bash the Pirates left and right for not bringing him north, but he already has a ticket to Indy and that is not going to change, the Pirates are not going to give up that year of control for a couple of weeks or a month or so.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Leadoff/John….yeh, you both are probably right. Just wished you weren’t…lol

  • Jeff

    I don’t like reading “Marte hit by pitch’
    I hope he stays healthy and gets to spring training ready to go on day 1.

    • IC Bob

      Get use to Marte getting beaned. He has a chance to break HBP records. They way he turns into inside pitches and the fact he is vulnerable to the inside curve sets up for him to get beaned a lot. It comes with risk but he seems pretty good at taking it in the back

  • duckwoes

    Thanks for the daily updates John. As someone who thinks football is waaaaaay overrated, I appreciated your Caribbean Series comment. Much rather watch that than the Super Bowl. My mother was an avid baseball fan most of her life and always complained about the popularity of football. When she passed away in early 2012, I noted in delivering her eulogy that she left us on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. I like to think it was her way of saying, “I am not going to sit through another one of these.”

    • John Dreker

      The Super Bowl kills me. It’s like a regular football game, stretched out over an extra hour so they can sell more commercials. It’s also no way to decide a league title. One game after two weeks of sitting around and you add in all the hoopla surrounding it and that is how you decide the Super Bowl winner? It just proves who was the best on one day under odd circumstances

      • buster09

        John,what you mean is that the SB is an over- stretched out version of a an already over -stretched game. The pre-game flyover and half time ” shows ” are ridiculous on top of it all.

        • John Dreker

          I skipped the six hour pre-game show last year and watched the Puppy Bowl. Much more exciting and less commercials

          • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

            The Super Bowl is AWESOME when you DVR it….no commercials (you can watch them on the web the next day, anyway), no halftime show and the game is over in under 2 hrs.

            • John Dreker

              Someone once told me that football only plays for 8-10 minutes per game, the rest is the clock running. I didn’t believe them, so I timed an entire game. 8:08 of play time. So you COULD watch the super bowl in about 9 minutes if you wanted to skip the huddles, standing around and constant instant replays

            • Andrew

              I have also timed football games for live action and usually end up between 10-13 minutes, Wall Street Journal found 11 minutes.

              http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704281204575002852055561406

              • John Dreker

                Thinking about it, I think it was 9:09 of playing time the game I tracked, but it was definitely under 10 minutes. It was also back around 1989ish and I believe the time they are allowed between plays has been cut down 5 seconds. That could wrong too, I haven’t watched football since 1991 when the Giants won the Super Bowl again. That was the last straw for me. If you added up every play of football I’ve seen since then, it would probably equal 5-6 games

                • csnumber23

                  Sorry guys, I love baseball more than anything. I was a pitcher. However I love football almost just as much. The way you guys speak of football is the way I feel about hockey.

          • https://profiles.google.com/108052838757004515293 Possum

            Ah, the Puppy Bowl. A great way to spend the day other than watching an old Bucco game on the DVR. Just love those puppies!

  • jaygray007

    #bestoutfieldinbaseball

  • blackmax

    Now you tweet that he has re-injured his left hand. How bad is it???

  • John Dreker

    @Y2JGQ2 The extra fastballs I mentioned, would come from the threat that Polanco is on the bases while Marte is up. Most catchers want fastballs with a fast runner on base, so they have a better chance of catching him. Polanco is a legit 40 steal player, who is also a very smart base runner. There is a huge difference from Polanco on base in front of Marte, as opposed to Barmes or a pitcher. Marte only batted lead-off 119 times last year out of his 566 plate appearances, meaning times he led off the game, so his other 447 plate appearances were later in the game. That’s a huge % when mentioning that most pitchers like to go fastball early in the game. I also think having McCutchen directly behind him will get him more fastballs because pitchers won’t want to put him on, especially if Polanco is already on base.

    In reality, whoever you batted second would be in a great situation, but I’d rather have the speed of Marte there and I feel he will be a legit .300 hitter yearly with marginal power. If you put him further down in the order, pitchers will be able to work him better with no threats behind him

    • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

      Polanco RF
      Walker 2B
      McCutchen CF
      Alvarez 3B
      Marte LF
      Lambo 1B
      Martin C
      Mercer SS

      • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

        Gwbister,

        I agree for a number of reasons. Bat the lefty after Polanco – natural opening on the right side if Polanco reaches base. You might even consider swapping McCutchen and Marte. Also, you alternate righty bat / lefty bat which is a bit unappreciated.

        Pitches per plate appearance from 2013:

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/league/nl/sort/pitchesPerPlateAppearance/type/expanded

        Russell Martin #13 – 4.01
        Pedro Alvarez #17 – 3.93 (Shocking, I know for a guy that struck out over 180 times and is still top 20 for pitches per plate appearance)
        Starling Marte #30 – 3.83
        Andrew McCutchen #35 – 3.80

        Haven’t been able to find a team stat for it at ESPN or FanGraphs but I suspect the Pirates were in the top 2 or 3 in the NL in 2013. What that means is the Pirates are getting into the opponents bull pen earlier, and with the staggered line up, they will force to burn match up relief pitchers (righty vs. righty, lefty vs. lefty).

        And John according to ESPN, Marte led off the inning 215 times (not 119) in 2013:

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/splits/_/id/30830/starling-marte

        Leading off the inning he hit .312 (67 for 215) in 2013. In his other 289 non-leadoff at bats he hit .253 (73 for 289).

        • John Dreker

          The 119 is from games started. I was pointing out that he said pitchers started the game throwing more fastballs, but only a small % of his at-bats actually came as the first batter of the game. His other 447 plate appearances came after the first inning

          • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

            John,

            Sorry about that. Would it make more sense to bat Polanco 2nd behind Marte. I didn’t realize Polanco was a lefty bat and glove (never seen him play).

            http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=570256

            • John Dreker

              I can see both sides of the argument for Marte hitting 1st/2nd. Ultimately, I see Polanco more of a middle of the order hitter, but when he first comes up, I think you will see him get on base at a decent clip, collect some doubles and steals lots of bases. That would be a prototypical lead-off hitter, which Marte really isn’t because of his walk rate, but he sort of makes up for by getting hit a lot. Would be nice if he could cut down that part of his game.

              I think whoever you put between Polanco and McCutchen would benefit(except Alvarez), so I like Marte there for his speed. If you could put the three outfielders at the top of the order in front of your main power threat, you’ll have 100+ stolen bases and guys on base constantly for Alvarez.