Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Surprising Career of Andy Marte

My friend Bryce has written a couple of columns for me here and recently sought my thoughts on Cubs third-baseman Mike Olt. The 25 year-old is getting his first prolonged experience in the majors after the Cubs got him from the Rangers last trading deadline and is hitting .175/.254/.430 entering Saturday's action. The power is real (it's damn real) with nine homers out of 20 hits. But the strikeouts are plentiful and even "moneyball nerds" like myself can't put a good spin on those numbers.

Looking at Olt's minor league numbers, I was briefly reminded of a former Braves third baseman who was a sure thing, but at the age of 30, is as quad-A as they come. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in September of 2000, Andy Marte was a big international free agent who the Braves were expecting huge things out of. It didn't take long for the Braves to think he would deliver on those expectations as, at 18, he slashed .281/.339/.492 at Macon in the South Atlantic League. You don't put up those kind of numbers against 20 year-old pitchers if you aren't special.

Credit: Boston.com
The season got him a top 40 spot in Baseball America's Top Prospect list entering 2003, where he posted an .840 OPS while battling the notorious wind in Myrtle Beach, along with the pitcher's parks that frequently aid the guy on the mound in the Carolina League. He was the 11th best prospect i baseball entering 2004, when injuries limited him to just 107 games in Greenville, but he still bashed 23 homers and slashed .269/.364/.525. The power was there, the plate discipline was there, and he was graded as a pretty good third baseman to boot. While he was not projected to hit .300, he was supposed to be good enough with the stick to bat in the .260's and with his plate discipline and power, that was All-Star worthy consideration at third.

Two problems. One, his swing was long and his bat speed suffered as a result. Two, the Braves already had Chipper Jones at third base. The Braves had tried left field with Chipper from 2002-to-2004 and the idea was scrapped, which was good news for Chipper. There was talk about moving Chipper to first, but Chipper either wasn't anxious to do so or the Braves simply gave up on the idea of moving old man Larry anywhere else.

In 2005, Marte got his first taste of AAA and hit .275/.372/.506 with 20 homers for Richmond. An injury to Chipper got Marte to the majors in June for his first cup of coffee, but he struggled and hit just .200 with a .600 OPS. He briefly got back for a little more than a week in July and was recalled in September with expanded rosters where he often finished off games at third to keep Chipper healthy. However, in 66 PA, he slashed just .140/.227/.211 with 13 K's, looking every bit of overmatched.

But that was okay. After all, he was only 21. He had his entire future ahead of him and looked like a sure thing. That career took a detour to Boston after the Braves traded Marte for Edgar Renteria, who had signed a big contract with the Red Sox and crashed during his only year with Boston. Renteria would replace the departing Rafael Furcal. The Red Sox were so kind to add money to the deal and the Braves were happy to turn a blocked prospect into a major league shortstop, especially one who was above average. In addition, after the 2005 season, Chipper had signed an extension. Marte's time in Boston lasted less than two months. Before spring training, the Sox sent Marte to the Indians in a deal where seven players changed cities, including most notably for the Red Sox, Coco Crisp.

For five years, Marte failed to stick in Cleveland and his production in the minors slipped. He OPS'd .773 in 96 games with Buffalo in 2006 and then .766 in 96 more games with the Bisons in 2007. At the majors, that OPS would look like a career year for Marte. In 302 games in the majors, all but 24 with the Indians, Marte slashed .218/.277/.358. It's not that he was striking out a lot. His career 19.2 K% is less than 2 points higher than the MLB average for the six years he was in the majors. He simply wasn't producing. Too many flyballs turned into outs and his plate discipline all but disappeared. His upper cut swing was producing far too many harmless outs and too few line drives or groundballs that found the outfield grass. He posted a 67 wRC+ over his career to go with a woeful .280 wOBA. Defensively, he was pretty average, though perhaps his UZR's would have looked better if he could have stayed in the lineup.

His highlight of 2010? He pitched a scoreless inning with a strikeout of Nick Swisher.

Arbitration-eligible for the first time after 2010, the Indians non-tendered Marte and his journey from system to system began. First stop was a year with Indianapolis in the Pirates system, where he hit just .202 with a putrid .606 OPS. After a year out of baseball, Marte caught on with the York Revolution of the Atlantic League to open 2013 and produced rather well with York, hitting .301 with an .893 OPS and 19 HR. The Angels figured he was worth a look and signed him for the remainder of 2013 and in 26 games for Salt Lake, Marte slashed .362/.398/.574, but didn't get a callup to the bigs.

This season, Marte is playing for Reno in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. As of Saturday, the former top prospect is hitting .306/.358/.493. Reno has a team is hitting .291 so you take these numbers with a grain of salt.

Marte is the classic "can't miss, sure thing, once every ten years prospect" who falls so spectacularly on his face. Still only 30, there remains a chance Marte can get back to the majors, but the likelihood of Marte ever being a productive major league player is very small. You almost have to root for him because by all accounts, he seems like a strong worker and a good guy. But nice traits will never trump a long uppercut swing that can't keep up with the heat.

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