Earlier this week we named Kyle McPherson as our 2011 Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Year. The voting was unanimous, which reflected how McPherson stood ahead of the rest of the pack throughout the 2011 season. For our 2011 Hitter of the Year, the voting was also unanimous, although that’s not necessarily a reflection of how close the race was.
It should come as no surprise that Pirates Prospects has named Starling Marte the 2011 Hitter of the Year. We came in to the season higher on him than everyone else. He was our number two prospect in the system, and no individual writer had him lower than third. There were a lot of question marks surrounding Marte in his jump to AA this year. There were questions about whether he would hit for any kind of power. There were concerns on whether he could continue hitting for average with a high strikeout ratio and a low walk ratio.
Marte answered all sorts of questions in his jump from high-A to AA. He hit for a .332/.370/.500 line, winning the Eastern League batting title in the process. He showed some power with 12 home runs, which more than doubled his US career total of five coming in to the season, and followed a year where he didn’t hit any homers in 222 at-bats in high-A. His secondary numbers also saw improvements. He slashed his strikeout rate from 26.6% in high-A in 2010 to 18.7% in AA in 2011. His walk rate remained low, and actually took a drop, going from 4.7% in 2010 to 3.8% in 2011. However, his contact skills stood the test in his jump to the AA level, leading to a high average and on-base percentage, despite the low walk totals.
Starling was in the top five in the Pirates’ minor league organization in plate appearances (4th), at-bats (1st), runs (2nd), hits (1st), doubles (1st), triples (4th), stolen bases (5th), batting average (2nd among full season players), slugging percentage (3rd among full season players), OPS (2nd among full season players), and total bases (1st).
Marte did have some competition. Ramon Cabrera put up a great season in high-A, with a .343/.410/.471 line in 327 at-bats, and leading all full season players in batting average and OPS. However, Cabrera had over 200 fewer at-bats than Marte, and had his performance at a lower level, giving Marte the edge.
Robbie Grossman also had an amazing season for the Bradenton Marauders. He led the organization in walks, runs, and led the full season players in on-base percentage. He became the first minor league player to walk 100 times and score 100 runs in the same season since Nick Swisher in 2004. He also led the entire minor leagues in runs and walks. Like Marte, Grossman also showed some power for the first time in his career. Grossman had an outstanding season, but the difference between high-A and AA played a part, and Marte had similar numbers, even though Grossman had the notable walk and run accomplishments.
Matt Hague was also a strong candidate after hitting for a .309/.372/.457 line in 534 at-bats at the AAA level. Hague probably would have taken the award with a more consistent stat line. He had an OPS of .699 in April and .782 in May, before blowing up with a 1.094 OPS in June. He dipped again to .747 in August. By comparison, Marte was consistent all year, only having one bad month, in July, but making up for that with a huge month in August.
Alex Presley would have been the winner of this award with more time in the minors. He hit for a .330/.386/.480 line in 348 at-bats in AAA, before getting promoted to Pittsburgh, where he’s hit for a .309/.358/.461 line in 165 at-bats. The latter accomplishment is far more important than winning the Minor League Hitter of the Year award for the second straight year.