February 27, 2013
Grapefruit League Journal: Pittsburgh Pirates
Ask Clint Hurdle about Starling Marte, and the Pirates manager with tell you that he’s an “electric player”. Marte, the first crest in the wave of Pirates farm system depth, reached the big leagues last year at 23. On the first pitch he saw, he homered into the left field seats, announcing his presence with authority.
Marte hit .257/.300/.427 in 47 games during his first audition, a line that produced a .261 TAv. In 1,994 career minor-league plate appearances, Marte fanned 397 times but drew just 101 walks. To say he’s “aggressive” at the plate would be an understatement. But how do the Pirates get him to be more “selective” without robbing him of the qualities that made lead to a .303/.361/.462 minor-league line?
By letting him work through it.
“Some guys are visual learners,” Hurdle told us on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio. “Some guys are ‘feel’ learners, some guys [learn by] rhythm. What we’ve done with Starling is mix it in a little bit.”
There’s a saying about scouting talent that goes, “If you’ve seen it, then you know it’s in there.” That’s what GM Neal Huntington believes about Marte.
He’s shown us the ability for extended periods of time to command the zone, when we’ve challenged him on it,” says Huntington. “[We told him], ‘To get to the big leagues, you need to show us you can command the zone.’ [Then] he goes out and does it. But then again, he falls back onto his strength, which is he believes he can hit any pitch. The [Kirby] Pucketts and [Vladimir] Guerreros have been the exception in the past. We’re trying to get him to understand when he hits his pitch he’s a nightmare for pitchers. When he hits their pitch, he’s going to be out a lot more than we’d like him to be.”
But Hurdle, who’s well known for his motivational tactics, is using some data as well to get his point across.
“We’ll show him his spread charts, we’ll show him his batting average when he’s [swinging at pitches] in the zone or just off the zone. We’ll show him his chase zones where he’s been vulnerable. It’s not ‘strike out less, walk more’. It’s about owning the strike zone, knowing what he does best and maximizing that.”
It’s something Marte seemed to do better in Winter Ball. He was more comfortable with the pitchers there, which led to a more statistically selective approach. And that isn’t lost on Hurdle.
“His skill set is unique, he made nice strides again this winter. He started leading off, showing more discipline, and then he started hitting so well they dropped him in the order and he had a blow up the last 2-3 weeks in the playoffs and finals of winter ball. His confidence has never been higher.”
And Huntington feels that familiarity can only help. “[Starling’s] intelligent. He’s got incredible athletic aptitude, and as he does get familiar with pitchers, he’s going to make adjustments. When they adjust to him, we believe he’ll be able to adjust back.”
There’s more than just making the playoffs at stake for a Pirates team that’s faded the last two years. Three more wins would have stopped baseball’s longest consecutive string of losing seasons, which has now reached two decades. Their 79 wins were tied with the 1997 squad for the most victories in that era. Huntington saw more positives, as well.
“For the second time in franchise history we had three players with 25 or more home runs, and those guys are under contract control. We set the all-time frachise reord for strikeouts by a pitching staff, so there are some really, really good things going on here. Why did we fade? Those are the answers we have to come up with.”
Answers they hope Marte can help supply.
All quotes courtesy of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio Spring Tour.