Tigers Potential Trade Target: Starling Marte
By Garret Craig
Most of the talk surrounding the Tigers’ off-season has centered around players to fill the sizable holes the club has at second and third base. Of course, there has also been some discussion of back-up catchers, back-end starters, and middle relievers. Another position on the Tigers’ roster that may seem in need of an upgrade is left field. Should the Tigers non-tender Delmon Young, which, granted, seems somewhat unlikely, they could either use the newly-opened spot in left to add another proven hitter to hit in the three-hole (Miguel Cabrera seems destined to hit fourth) or a legitimate lead-off hitter to push Austin Jackson out of the high-pressure role in which most feel he has not performed adequately. To that end, a regular commenter here on Motor City Bengals who identifies himself as ‘woodnick’ recently brought up the name of an interesting prospect; that of Starling Marte.
The speedy outfielder from the Dominican Republic was signed cheap by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007. Since then, he’s established himself as one of the best prospects in their minor league system and exhibited potential to become an outstanding player in the major leagues.
But can he step in and become a regular at the top of a lineup as soon as next season, as the Tigers would be envisioning if they got him? And is it even realistic to think that they have the pieces to acquire him? Let’s take a look.
Above all else, Marte is an exceptional athlete. Most profiles label him around six-foot-two and somewhere between 170 and 180 pounds. For a man with such a large yet slender build, his speed is truly remarkable. That speed has drawn rave reviews–Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette once wrote that Marte could “cover as much of center field — maybe even more — than Andrew McCutchen.” In the same article, he went on to praise his throwing arm, which could become one of the better outfield cannons in baseball. Overall, Marte’s play as a defender has received much praise.
His speed has also proved effective on the basepaths–in the past five years, he’s stolen a base in roughly 30% of his games–he swiped 24 bags this year.
It’s not all speed and defense with Marte, though. He’s put up high batting averages at every level of professional ball to this point, and this year at Double-A, he put up an outstanding .332 average. In an unexpected turn, he’s also recently developed a bit of power, racking up 58 extra-base hits this year including 12 home runs and eight triples, enough to boost his slugging percentage to .500. The gap power his statistics suggest would translate beautifully to Comerica Park.
Essentially, he hits for power and average all while excelling at running, fielding, and throwing; a five-tool player.
His defensive prowess is impressive, but should the Tigers acquire Marte, they would not be able to take full advantage of it unless they were to follow up his acquisition with a move to trade away Austin Jackson. Jackson is one of the best center fielders in baseball, and losing his defense and replacing it with that of Marte would probably not yield much improvement if any. Though he was a left fielder when he signed with the Pirates back in 2007, he’s only logged 88 games between the two corner outfield spots since.
There is also a huge concern at the plate with Marte–his strikeout to walk ratio. A lead-off hitter, traditionally, has the ability to work a pitcher for a walk, but Marte walked just 22 times in 572 plate appearances this year. His strikeout rate (17.5% this year but higher in previous seasons), while it would be an improvement over Jackson’s, doesn’t exactly scream contact hitter. In order to succeed in the majors, he’ll need to work on his plate approach.
Marte is also somewhat lacking in experience. He’s never played a game in the majors and prior to this season, he had never played more than 68 games in a single year.
The Pirates have three young outfielders–McCutchen, Alex Presley, and Jose Tabata–under team control for four, six, and eight years respectively. Barring trades or injuries, that trio is expected to be Pittsburgh’s opening day outfield. Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com wrote a very informative piece on why it’s unlikely any of them will be traded.
Marte is the Pirates’ best outfield prospect, but they do have other talented players, such as Robbie Grossman, not far behind. It would seem, then, that the Pirates wouldn’t have too much difficulty parting ways with Marte.
As I wrote yesterday, the Pirates have a pressing need for left-handed pitching, but given how highly Marte is thought of, his acquisition would probably demand one of Detroit’s better pitching prospects.
While Marte is a very interesting player with a ton of potential, he’s probably not ready to play every day in the majors. He’ll probably get a call-up later in the year, but to slot him in to your lineup out of spring training, especially if you were to ask him to lead off, would be a bit premature and very risky. There is a chance that his excellent numbers in the minors, given his strikeout and walk rates, won’t convert positively to the major leagues. I think Marte will begin the 2012 season with the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate. That said, if Marte still has not found a major-league job by 2013 and Jackson doesn’t improve at the plate, the Tigers could be exploring this guy with quite a bit more interest.