In 2013, the Pirates gave 24 year-old Starling Marte a chance to be the every day lead-off hitter, and he has certainly earned his place at the top of the lineup. After hitting .323 in his 62 spring at-bats, Marte has been the lead-off hitter in every game that he has started this season. Entering tonight's game against the Tigers, Marte holds a .297/.320/.433 slash line to go along with 5 dingers, 18 RBIs and his team leading 36 runs scored.
After being signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 18, this top Pirates prospect burst onto the scene in 2012, smacking the first pitch he saw deep over the left center field fence at Minute Maid off Houston's Dallas Keuchel. He finished 2012 with a relatively impressive first year line, shown below via Baseball Reference.
In 2013, he has been even more impressive, and has more than earned a consistent spot atop the 32-20 Pirates' order. One thing that impresses me about Marte is that just about all facets of his game are incredibly polished for such a young player. Early in his professional career, scouts talked about how Marte had gold-glove caliber potential in the outfield, and this year he has shown that such a claim may well be true. His RngR stands at a fantastic 5.1, second among all left fielders (Andy Dirks, 7.7). He has shown astonishing range in 2013, and owns a RZR (revised zone rating) of .952, again, second among all left fielders (Juan Pierre, .970).
Another area of the game where Marte has excelled is in his ability on the bases. To go along with his 13 swipes, Marte has a team-leading 3.7 BsR (FanGraph's base running component of WAR), which is also good for third in the majors, behind Austin Jackson (4.5) and David Wright (4.3).
Of course, Marte has also performed beyond expectations at the dish this season. Among all leadoff hitters, Marte's 32.6 Runs Created is second only to Shin Soo-Choo of the Reds, who has an absurd 47.7. His wRC+ of 129 is 5th among all hitters under the age of 25, and his wOBA of .354 stands 6th among such hitters. Marte, although older than some of the guys above him on these lists, has less MLB plate appearances than all but one of these guys, so these numbers are impressive.
Now for a bit of fun with small samples. Starling Marte has been an absolute machine in high leverage situations (as defined by FanGraphs). In 19 PA, Marte is hitting .529 with 9 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Three of his 5 homers this season have come in such situations. He leads all hitters with a .699 wOBA and 370 wRC+, and he's the only hitter in baseball slugging over 1.000 (1.118) in high leverage. Even though this comes from an incredibly small sample size, these numbers are still fun to look at.
Personally, I love watching Starling play and I'm even more excited to watch him grow into an even better player in the coming years. Also, fingers crossed that he wins a Silver Slugger someday, because the title of the article would make so much more since if that happened. But until then, I offer you a GIF of Starling forgetting how to use his glove. They're so cute when they're young.