Marte progressing, but not ready yet
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No matter the strength of the case Starling Marte has assembled during the past month, he can only do so much to force his way to the majors.
He went 2 for 5 and scored two runs on July 7. Monday, he went 3 for 4 with a home run, a double and a triple. No matter how the 23-year-old outfielder for Class AAA Indianapolis performs, though, his potential playing time at the major league level will play just as big a role in the Pirates' decision to bring him up.
"This is a guy that you bring up to play every day," assistant general manager Kyle Stark said. "It's not a guy that you bring up in a bench role or whatever else."
The Pirates outfield currently has little room for another everyday player. Andrew McCutchen commands center field, and Alex Presley and recent addition Drew Sutton have played left in recent weeks.
The offensive production from Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee in the past month and a half has kept them both in the lineup, and McGehee's infield defense has kept him at first base, impressing manager Clint Hurdle in the process. That leaves Jones in right field for the most part, especially after the demotion of Jose Tabata.
Stark said the team must balance the point at which Marte was ready for the majors with the opportunity. Marte could get that opportunity in the event of an injury or trade, or if team officials decide that he would be an upgrade over one of the current corner outfielders.
Stark said Marte could play right or left field. He has played more right field recently because of winter ball, Stark said, so the Pirates are giving him starts in both corners.
"His reads and breaks have been good," Stark said. "Every year, there's been an adjustment period when he first goes to a bigger stadium."
Marte entered the season as the No. 4 prospect in the Pirates system, according to Baseball America. He hit .325 in 29 June games with a .385 on-base percentage, four home runs, six doubles and five triples. He is hitting .285 this season, his first in Indianapolis, with a .346 on-base percentage and .499 slugging percentage. He has 17 doubles, 13 triples and 11 home runs.
The Pirates wanted Marte to improve his plate discipline at the Class AAA level this season, and Stark said Marte made progress.
"Basically every month he's been better," Stark said. "We've looked at what pitches is he chasing, when's he chasing, the overall quality of the at-bats, and he's gotten better every single month."
Marte struck out in 25.3 percent of his at-bats in April, but that number fell to 21.3 percent in May and 22.5 percent in June. He still has 83 strikeouts in 355 at-bats this season, a 23.4 percent rate, and 26 walks.
Marte hit .332 for Class AA Altoona in 2011 and also displayed some power with 12 home runs, the first time he hit more than three since he was a 19-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2008.
This year, his name has surfaced in reports of trade discussions. His play has not escaped notice of the decision-makers, including the one who fills out the lineup card.
"We're well aware of what Starling is doing down there," Hurdle said in early July, when the Pirates sent Tabata to the minors. "His development is headed in the right direction."
For now, Marte will continue to work on his plate discipline in Indianapolis until opportunity calls.
"When he's ready, and we're ready to commit to him," Stark said, "then that's when we'll bring him."
• Game: Marlins at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
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