Starling Marte has certainly had a spectacular season this year as a 22 year old in AA. He set the Altoona single season record for hits, he is hitting .335 with 58 extra base hits and 23 stolen bases. He has added 18 outfield assists and played superb defense in center field. Marte has also been named to the Eastern League all-star team, both mid-season and the post-season teams as well as being named to the Futures game held during the major league’s all-star weekend. What I wanted to know though, is how do those offensive stats I mentioned above stack up to the minor leagues now and then going back in the past, how do they stack up over the last 50 minor league seasons in the Pirates system.
2011 in the Minors
The number of hitters who have hit .335 this season with 58 or more extra base hits in the minors is pretty small. It includes Marte and David Cooper, who has 60 extra base hits and hit .370 playing for Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, a team that had ten guys with over 140 AB’s bat over .300 this year. Obviously it is hard to compare the PCL stats to the Eastern League. It also includes Vincent Catricala, while he played in the California League for High Desert where anyone can hit, he has also continued his season in the Southern League so he is a closer comp to Marte (both born October 1988) even with the half season in the Cal Lg. Vincent has hit .350 with 74 extra base hits.
Taylor Green has also reached those marks hitting .336 with 60 extra base hits but he also played in the PCL and he has been promoted to the majors due to his fine season. Scott Van Slyke in the Southern League has 73 extra base hits and a .350 average but he is a 25 year old in AA. Gary Brown has 59 extra base hits and a .336 average, the closest player to Marte but he also played his whole season in the Cal Lg at the same age as Marte and Brown was a 1st round pick, so his stats were more what was expected from him in that league, one would think.
That is the entire list of minor leaguers who have hit at least .335 with 58 extra base hits this year. Marte and two guys from the PCL, two from the Cal Lg and a guy who is 3 years older than him at the same level. So he does fairly well with those comparisons, no one else in a low to middle offensive league that is age appropriate for their level. When you add in the speed factor you come up with Marte and Brown, who has an amazing 50 stolen bases to go along with 16 outfield assists. If he wasn’t putting up those offensive numbers in the Cal Lg he would basically be Marte with better base running but the Cal Lg averages 1.14 more runs per game than the EL and San Jose (Brown’s team) is at the top of the offensive list while Altoona is at the bottom of the EL.
I went back exactly 50 seasons to 1962 to find players in the Pirates system who have put up those same numbers in a single season and here is what I have come up with.
Elmo Plaskett hit 59 extra base hits and batted .350 in 1962. Not a good start for comps as he played briefly for two seasons in the majors but here is the catch, Plaskett might not be a good comp for anyone, he was a 24 year old in the South Atlantic League (A ball) and he had played in AAA prior to that. He was actually in his 6th season in the minors at that point and he did not have any other seasons close to that in his career
Jose Vidal batted .340 with 74 extra base hits in 1963. Again don’t panic because you never heard of Vidal, the Pirates team he was on was in Reno in the Cal Lg and averaged 6.11 runs per game and he was in his 6th season of baseball at that point. He was never the same hitter prior to that or after the fact so everything points to his season being due to the league he was in. Despite that, he did make the majors for parts of four seasons.
After that you could say we hit a dry spell because the next player to match Marte’s stats was, well….no one. That means if I only went back 48 years I would’ve came up with Marte and that is it. Unfortunately the players who came close to reaching the mark don’t exactly get you excited although there is a huge difference in the rest of the overall package between Marte and the four closest to reach those marks, Walter Young, Chris Shelton, J.R. House and Steven Pearce.
Young came close as a 22 year old in low-A ball but he wasn’t exactly the best athlete at 300 lbs and anchored to 1B. Shelton came close in 2002 and 2003, he was 23 and in high-A in 2003 and like Young, not much of an athlete but he did have a decent run in the majors for a short time so if someone who was purely a good hitter can stick around for 299 games you would think if he was decent on defense and fast he would’ve been more valuable.
House had a great season in 2000 as a 20 year in low-A ball but his career was derailed by numerous injuries and a decision to quit baseball to play college football for one year in 2005 at age 25. House’s career isn’t a good comp to Marte although his season, like Marte’s, was done as an age appropriate player in a mid-offense league.
Finally, Pearce has had trouble staying healthy recently and obviously isn’t a good defensive center fielder with speed. His close season came in his run through the system in 2007 when the Pirates kept him in low-A ball for some reason as a 24 year old. He crushed pitching there for three weeks before moving up to AA and then AAA with his stats slightly dropping as he moved up.
When you look through the current minor leagues and throughout Pirates history you really see it is hard to come up with a player similar to Marte who has put up the numbers he has this year. Your closest choices are for current players, a guy in a much higher offense league in Gary Brown, who is the Giants highest rated prospect now that Zack Wheeler is gone and Brandon Belt no longer has prospect eligibility.
For 50 years of Pirates history you get J.R. House and like I said, it is hard to compare Marte to someone who had their season in low-A and then suffered numerous injuries and quit the game for a year. House still went on to play small parts of five seasons in the majors so it does make you wonder where his career could’ve went if healthy and he remained in the game the whole time.
When you add in the speed and defense to those offensive marks you really have no similar player who has had a comparable season to what Marte has done this year.