Pittsburgh called up corner outfielder Starling Marte Wednesday afternoon, ending months of speculation as to when the team would address its needs in the outfield and at the leadoff spot and finally make use of its star position prospect.
Marte’s recall was first reported by Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects. The announcement came as Pittsburgh avoided being swept by the woeful Chicago Cubs in a series in which they scored only four runs, narrowly taking the afternoon contest by a 3-2 score.
Reliever Evan Meek was demoted to the AAA club to make room for Marte on the 40-man roster.
Marte will bring a .286/.348/.500 line from AAA Indianapolis, where he made his debut just this season. In 98 games with the AAA Indians, Marte collected 12 home runs, 64 runs and 61 RBI in 427 plate appearances.
The team had previously been hesitant to recall their star prospect. Marte tore his way through spring training and led many to believe he could start the season with the Pirates, but management appeared reluctant to have Marte make the jump straight from AA to the Majors.
After some early struggles with Indianapolis—mostly in the areas of plate discipline and strikeout percentage—Marte turned his game on in June and July. Marte finished July with a .293/.363/.554 line, seven multi-hit games, 14 RBI and 22 strikeouts in 92 plate appearances.
Pittsburgh has a gaping hole at their lead-off spot, where current lead-off man Alex Presley is batting just .230 with a miserable .270 OBP. It’s hard to begin each game with an automatic out, but that’s what the lead-off has been for Pittsburgh for most of this season.
In the majors, Marte may bring more potential than production for some time, but the potential is enormous.
My favorite thing the last few years has been watching the reactions of people who are seeing Marte play for the first time. When people see his speed, defense in center, his power, and his very muscular frame (if you’ve ever thought he’s a short, skinny outfielder, you’re wrong), their opinions usually change quickly, and the opinions are amazement at how good he is.
While Marte’s strikeout percentage remains a concern, his defense is just the opposite. Pittsburgh’s major defensive need lies in the corner outfield, where a rotation of platoon infielders and light-hitting Gorkys Hernandez have gotten starts all year. Marte figures to become a fixture in right field, where the team spent the last few months grooming the natural center fielder to play alongside mainstay CF Andrew McCutchen.
It will be interesting to see how well Marte adjusts to MLB pitching. The outfielder earned just 427 at-bats at the AAA level—one more than 3B Pedro Alvarez, another star hitting prospect who initially struggled to adjust to Major League pitching.
Conversely, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker made the transition to MLB hitting a little more painlessly than Alvarez, in part because they earned 881 and 1,198 at-bats at the AAA level, respectively, before becoming full-time major leaguers.
Of course, McCutchen and Walker weren’t playing stellar AAA ball in a position of need at the MLB level while the Pirates were making a playoff push. Circumstances of the division race had plenty to do with Marte’s recall, whether the team admits as much or not.
Marte’s recall is a great step for the Pirates, but holes remain at left field and shortstop. After acquiring LHP Wandy Rodriguez for three prospects Tuesday and recalling Marte Wednesday, the team may not be ready to part with another handful of prospects in order to address one of those areas of need.
In the midst of a genuine pennant race, however, Pittsburgh may be ready to push for further help if the right moves are on the table.
Recalling Marte was one such move.