PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: World Future's All-Star Starling Marte #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
I'm all for caution with promotions of prospects, and that's one area where I have to respect that the Pirates know a lot more than I do about what a prospect needs to work on, but from the outside, it looks like it's time for the Pirates to seriously think about calling up Starling Marte.
The most important reason for this is that he appears to be ready, and if he's not, he's got to be awfully close. Marte has had a very streaky season so far, but his overall record contains a ton of positive indicators. He's reduced his K:BB ratio from about 4.5/1 in Class AA last year to 3.4/1 at Indianapolis this season. His power, which emerged rather suddenly last season, continues to develop. And he continues to hit for a high average. His most recent month of numbers is excellent, but forget about that and look at the entire body of work. For a 23-year-old in Class AAA, there's very little not to like. Again, that's the most important thing. If the performance isn't there, you don't proceed. But it is.
On the podcast last week, David asked me about Marte and I said something about Marte only coming up when he's ready. That was a spontaneous answer that I'd revise if I had the chance. I think Marte is probably ready now. We can certainly pick nits about where exactly "ready" is, but we're certainly close enough that I'm not going to worry about it. Marte is good enough right now that he's not likely to be helpless, and a promotion isn't likely to stunt his development.
A secondary benefit of promoting Marte now, of course, is that the Pirates are currently in a pennant race, and we're four weeks from the trading deadline. One corner outfielder, Jose Tabata, has played so badly that there are rumblings about sending him down, and the other, Alex Presley, hasn't exactly put his starting position in a hammerlock either, although he has hit pretty well in the past couple weeks. Other than Marte, there aren't a lot of alternatives in the organization, which is why you've seen minor-league veteran Drew Sutton in left field a lot recently.
If the Pirates can stay in contention, they certainly should be in the market for outfielders who can help out. Of course, they could upgrade at other positions as well -- the starting rotation, the bullpen, maybe shortstop. If Marte were to join the lineup right now and hit well over the next few weeks, it would give the Bucs some clarity as they head toward the trading deadline.
Again, I stress that the timing as it relates to the Pirates' pennant chase is a secondary concern. The Pirates still need to plan for the future, and if Marte truly had some glaring weakness in his game, then the Bucs' position in the standings wouldn't matter. But he doesn't, and after a couple months at the beginning of the season where they were playing over their heads, the Pirates are playing genuinely good baseball right now. Maybe they'll end up sputtering out like last year, but until they do, I don't mind them taking themselves seriously. And I wouldn't mind calling up Marte right now even if the Pirates were awful.