Monday, December 13, 2010

Andy Marté

Andy Manuel Marté, 27, was born in Villa Tapia of the Dominican Republic and signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2000 as a 16 year old. After a very so-so beginning in the Appalachian Rookie League in 2001 (.200/1/12), the Marté myth began.

The lanky youngster hit .281/21/105 in Class A Macon as an 18 year old. He entered the 2003 season ranked as Baseball America's #40 prospect, and didn't disappoint. Marté didn't tear up High A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League quite as much, but still put together a .285/16/63 line. It impressed BA; he went into 2004 as their #11 prospect.

Marté's 2004 line at AA Greenville of the Southern League was .269/23/68, worth another bump up by BA; his 2005 rank was #9. That season, with AAA Richmond of the International League, his line was .275/20/74. But in a pattern that would repeat over and over in his career, the third baseman hit only .140/0/4 in 57 at-bats during an audition with the Braves.

The Braves inked Chipper Jones to a contract extension, but lost SS Rafael Furcal in free agency in the off-season. Marté, blocked at the hot corner, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a new SS, vet Edgar Rentería, and cash - $11M.

He wasn't in Beantown for long. A few weeks later, Marté was shipped to the Cleveland Indians along with RHP Guillermo Mota, C Kelly Shoppach, PTBNL minor-league RHP Randy Newsom, and cash for CF Coco Crisp, C Josh Bard, and RHP David Riske in what was considered a blockbuster deal.

Marté was rated #14 for 2006, and spent most of the year with AAA Buffalo, where he cobbled together a .261/15/46 line. In 50 games with the Tribe, his numbers were .226/5/23. And for the first time since 2003, he dropped off BA's Top 100 prospect list.

Things didn't pick up much for him in 2007. Marté hit .267/16/60, and got into 20 games for Cleveland, with a line of .193/1/8.

The Dominican started 2008 with the big team after breaking camp, and initially received little playing time. But after the Indians traded Casey Blake in late July, he had the third base job to himself.

Hitting .221/3/17 in 80 games/235 at-bats (both career highs) pretty much lost the job for him. He strained his calf in late September to end a most forgettable season, one that took him out of the Indian's future plans entirely. The Tribe traded for Mark DeRosa to play the hot corner in 2009.

Marté was dropped from the roster that winter, but re-upped with the Indians when no other teams came sniffing around. He began 2008 on Columbus' bench. But given a second chance because of injuries, Marté rallied to put up a line of .327/18/66.

Following the trade of Ryan Garko on July 27th, Marté was recalled to the Indians, where he again was a model of mediocrity, hitting .232/6/25 in 155 at-bats. After the season, he was DFA'ed to make room for Juan Salas. Marté cleared waivers and was assigned to Columbus again.

He again made the team as a reserve out of camp, and his performance was pretty much the same ol', same ol'. Marté's line was .229/5/19 in 80 games, missing several weeks with a pulled hamstring. He did make his first pitching appearance, throwing a perfect inning with one strikeout in a mop up operation. Unfortunately for him, the Tribe was paying him to hit the ball, not hurl it.

In November, Marté was outrighted to Columbus yet again, removing him from the 40-man roster, and he filed for free agency. The Bucs signed him to a minor-league contract on December 1st with an invite to camp, where he'll get a chance to earn a bench spot in the spring. His glove is OK (about league average) even though he's a leadfoot; his final destination will be determined by his twig.

The once top prospect has a .218/.277/.358 batting line in the big leagues with 20 HR and 96 RBI in 838 at-bats. Marté has never batted more than 235 times nor played over 80 games during a season. What happened?

He may have just been flat-out overrated. In higher level minor league ball (AA & AAA), he only batted over .275 once in five seasons, though he did hit with consistent home run power.

Maybe he is just a AAAA player, like Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Brad "Big Country" Eldred, Bryan Bullington, John VanBenschoten - hey, remember Bobby Bradley and JJ Davis from the late nineties? It's a long list.

Trying to replicate the farm longball swing may be part of the problem he has in the show, too. Scouting reports claim that he's trying to pull everything, and his long swing gives MLB pitchers a big hole to work on. His patience and eye are also lacking; he had a solid 2:1 K to W ratio in the minors, but it's 3:1 in the show.

His minor league OBP was a very good .350; in the majors, it's just .277. That's just not indicative of fewer walks; Marté is also an extreme fly ball hitter, with a 50% average for balls in play. And if the flies aren't dropping over the fence, well...his BABIP is .252; the league average is right around .300.

It might be that Marté is a bit miscast as a clean-up style slugger. Maybe keeping him out of the middle of the order, in the six or seven hole, will help his discipline and shorten his swing - sliders kill him - by taking some of the HR pressure off of him. His fly ball/home run percentage is just 6%; the MLB average is close to 11%. That's a sign of either minimal power or overswinging; we think the latter is more likely.

There are the conspiracy theorists, too. They believe that the Tribe in general and Eric Wedge in particular misused Marté by not giving him an opportunity to win the job as a pup, but using him sparingly off the bench. According to this gang, if there is anything shred left of Marté's confidence, the only thing that can restore it - and his swing - is a change of scene.

Neal Huntington is taking a low risk gamble that they're right.

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