Did Starling Marte make a mechanical adjustment over the offseason?

Photo: Pittsburgh Pirates
Coming into spring training, I had seen Starling Marte bat fewer than ten times. In those plate appearances (all in 2011), he had not looked very good. He was aggressive, swinging early in the count without waiting for a good pitch to hit. His swing was all arms and did not seem like it would allow him to drive the ball. He mostly struggled to hit the ball past the pitcher’s mound when I was able to watch.

It was pretty clear that I had caught him during a few bad games, but his scouting reports aligned with the flaws I had witnessed in those at-bats. I was particularly concerned with his arms-heavy swing, an issue that has been mentioned many times regarding Marte. Prior to the 2011 season, Kevin Goldstein wrote the following at Baseball Prospectus.

Marte’s hand problems prevented him from hitting for power in 2010, but it’s not a complete excuse, as he’s an upper-half swinger who needs to incorporate his hips and legs into his swing.

In Baseball America’s 2012 Prospect Handbook, John Perrotto touched on the matter as well (subscription required).

If Marte gets more selective and starts using his lower half more, he could show more pop.

After seeing Marte a few times, I wondered if he would end up spending most of 2012 at Triple-A to work on some adjustments to his swing. But he has looked like a different hitter in the televised spring training games I have seen. He seems to be attacking the ball and driving it much better, and the resulting extra-base hits would appear to support that.

Let’s take a closer look at some video. Here is Marte lining a single to left during the MLB Futures Game last July.

Here he is grounding a single to left on March 5 against the Orioles.

Marte looks more balanced in the 2012 video, as he keeps his weight back and incorporates his lower half better. However, it is not absolutely clear from these tiny, grainy clips that his swing has changed this spring. The pitch from the Futures Game was an 82 MPH changeup and the spring training pitch was a 95 MPH fastball, so it is possible that he was simply caught out in front of the off-speed pitch and adjusted mid-swing. So I tried to take an even closer look.

The following two photos show Marte’s positioning right around the moment the pitcher releases the ball. Take note of Marte’s front foot in each photo.

In the Futures Game swing, Marte’s front foot had already landed by the time the pitch was released. This caused his weight to move forward too early in the process, forcing his arms to stay back and finish the swing by themselves. In the 2012 swing, his foot was still in the air at this point and did not touch down until the ball was about halfway to the plate. This allowed him to keep his weight back and get his entire body into the swing.

Keep in mind that there are only a limited number of videos of Marte available on the internet, and I am not a scout by any means. In other words, consider this more food for thought than any sort of conclusive evidence. But it seems that Marte may have made a legitimate adjustment that should help him transition from Double-A prospect to potential big leaguer more easily. This is not to say that he should have traveled north with the club, as he has some fine-tuning to do in Triple-A. Obviously, his free-swinging ways could cause issues at the upper levels, and I have a feeling he would be pretty erratic defensively at this point. However, with the improvement he has shown this spring, I am much more optimistic that he could be an effective major leaguer at some point in 2012.

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