Future Expectations: Alfredo Marte, OF


Don't look now but there's a very intriguing prospect making his name in Mobile this year by the name of Alfredo Marte. Out of the Dominican Republic, this corner outfielder has exploded onto the scene and has been selected to play in tomorrow's Future's Game, one of the highest honors a minor leaguer can receive. With most of the attention of our corner outfield prospects being focused on names like Bobby Borchering, Adam Eaton and Mark Krauss, the one out-performing all of them this year is Marte. He's been laying in the weeds for a few years now making his way through the lower minors without eye-popping numbers. But a plus season last year in Visalia followed by his explosion the first half of this year in Mobile has quickly stamped him as perhaps our top OF prospect. After the jump we'll look at where he came from, and some comps that might give us clues as to where he's going.

Background
Marte was signed in December 2005 by Junior Noboa and spent his next two seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League at age 17 and 18. He didn't do a lot as a 17-year-old getting just 78 plate appearances. But as an 18-year-old he had an outstanding campaign and clearly turned some heads within the organization. That year he put up a triple slash of .328/.475/.853, which for the DSL is really, really good. He was then shipped to America where he spent three years climbing the ladder from Yakima to South Bend to Visalia.
What probably cooled everyone on Marte was that none of those 3 years were anything special, and in fact they were rather pedestrian as he didn't post a +.700 OPS in any of them. Quite often Latino players have an extended adjustment period in coming to America. They get homesick, they have language barriers, food issues, social challenges in small towns, etc. Granted Marte's adjustment period has been a little more extended than you might like but he deserves at least a partial pass for the mediocrity during that period. It was his second year in Visalia at age 22 when he really started to put things together. That year he posted an .823 OPS in 250 plate appearances and started exhibiting a little power with 7 home runs in half a season. He missed some period of time that year due to injury but I don't have any details on that. He was ultimately promoted to Mobile before the season was out where he struggled some but he only got 50 at bats there and had a miserly BABIP of .273 in those at bats.
But then 2012 happened and Marte blossomed overnight. In the first half of this year Marte has torn through Southern League pitching to the tune of .295/.589/.957 and an incredible .297 ISO. He also hit 14 home runs and has exhibited a very manageable K rate of 17.4%. In my research of comparable seasons there are very few players since 2006 who have posted that kind of half season at the AA level and in his age bracket (22-24).
He seems to be a capable but not an above average defensive outfielder playing mostly right field throughout his career, though he did play a lot of center field his first year in Visalia. His RFG numbers in RF pace a little below Major League averages. So he might be destined to be a left fielder that can play right field out of necessity. He appears to have a capable arm as well with some decent assist numbers, although it's hard to gauge his arm based solely on that. He doesn't have big speed but he can steal a base here and there and he did steal 19 bases in Yakima. So while not a speedster he probably can't be classified slow of foot.
If you're buying Marte you're buying him for his bat, which is exactly what you should be buying a left fielder for. And it appears his bat is coming into its own in a big way that puts him squarely in the conversation of potential future Diamondback outfielders.

Minor League Comps
To develop a list of comps for Alfredo Marte I worked exclusively off of his 1st half season at Mobile this year. I first isolated all seasons at AA between the ages of 22 and 24 (Marte is 23) with 250+ plate appearances. Then based on Marte's impressive .957 OPS I removed all seasons of less than .850 OPS. Based on Marte's K-rate of 17.9% I removed all seasons outside of a 15-20% K-rate range. Then I deleted a couple of seasons from players who were just speed guys by only keeping seasons with 9+ home runs. And finally, based on Marte's .297 ISO I only kept seasons above .180. That produced the list of 18 players outlined below.

Vinnie Catricala, Seattle
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia
Matt Laporta, Cleveland
Hunter Pence, Houston
Scott Van Slyke, LA Dodgers
Alfredo Silverio, LA Dodgers
Chih-Hsien Chiang, Boston
Tyler Colvin, Chicago Cubs
Ryan Flaherty, Chicago Cubs
John Bowker, San Francisco
Aaron Luna, St. Louis
Kory Casto, Washington
Chris Lubanski, Kansas City
Cole Gillespie, Milwaukee
Dexter Fowler, Colorado
Mike Carp, NY Mets
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh

There's a few interesting names on this list that we would love to see Marte become. Domonic Brown, Hunter Pence and Dexter Fowler are interesting comps that jump off the page. The biggest question of all is whether Marte's 2012 first half is who is he, or if he's a 1-year wonder. I don't think it's fair to call him a 1-year wonder. While I know he had three mediocre minor-league seasons in a row, his 2007 DSL season is a standout and his 2011 season at Visalia was a portend of things to come. But that's not quite enough in my opinion to call his 2012 season-to-date a sure thing going forward. I'd call it 50/50 that's Marte's season is the real deal. In our discussion of all the comps, we'll operate under the assumption it is the real deal with the caveat that we understand he'll need to keep it up (or something close to it) to be stamped with the Top Prospect" tag going forward.
Following is a review of each of the 18 comps with more detailed comparisons.

Vinnie Catricala, Seattle
Good-looking prospect who is at AAA now having started professionally in 2009. Big year last year in High A and AA. AAA numbers are a little flat so far in 2012 but he's likely in Seattle's conversation for the future if he picks up where he left off last year. A good comp for Marte but future is still unknown.

Domonic Brown, Philadelphia
Brown is a very good comp for Marte. He's now in Philadelphia putting up average OF numbers. He's still finding his way at the Major League level but shows promise. His minor league numbers were very similar to Marte. Showed some power but not ridiculous power. Also had just "okay" seasons his Low A and High A seasons with just glimpses of power potential. Has a little more speed than Marte but this is a very, very good comp. Brown's half-season at AA was almost identical to Marte's with the same big wRC+. I like this comp a lot.

Matt Laporta, Cleveland
1st round pick by Cleveland in 2007. Fast-tracked to the majors arriving in 2009. Was given a full-time chance in 2010 but could only produce .668 OPS season. Produced low .700s OPS in 2009 and 2011 and is now at AAA posting excellent numbers. Being a top college hitter who excelled immediately in the minors it's tough to call him an ideal comp for Marte. Paths are totally different and Marte's AA season is better than Laporta's.

Hunter Pence, Houston
A very interesting comp. Like Laporta Pence was an advanced college hitter, so path-wise not like Marte's. Pence also tore up the minors upon arrival and went to the Majors and did the same. But even Pence's AA season doesn't compare to Marte's with Pence posting a 131 wRC+ compared to Marte's 169. But all their other numbers were very close. This is a pretty good comp for Marte, IF, Marte's 2012 season is the real deal.

Scott Van Slyke, Dodgers
Another interesting comp. Like Marte Van Slyke posted some pedestrian years at the lower levels, then had a breakout season in 2009 at High A and AAA, just like Marte is doing this year. Then Van Slyke tailed off in 2010 before returning to a high level in 2011. Van Slyke just arrived at the Major League level this year and isn't doing all that much and I don't think expectations are that high for him. But he's still an unknown. This is what Marte could become if he can't maintain his existing level of play. So from that perspective Van Slyke is a good downside comp.

Alfredo Silverio, Dodgers
A Dominican just a year older than Marte. Had a DSL season like Marte's in 2006, then a couple of mediocre lower level seasons like Marte. Then a breakout AA season in 2011 and was chosen to play in the Futures Game, just like Marte. This was Marte's twin brother, though Marte's AA season is even better than Silverio's was. This was supposed to be a big year in Silverio's possible step to the majors but he had a car accident suffering a severe concussion and is yet to play this year. Unknown comp due to injury.

Chih-Hsien Chiang, Boston/Seattle
Signed out of Taiwan. Steady progression through lower levels like Marte without doing anything special. Breakout minor league year in 2011 but still a notch below Marte's 2012 production. Now going backwards in 2012 from AAA to AA. Possible extreme downside comp if Marte's 2012 is a one-shot deal.

Tyler Colvin, Cubs
Good college hitter drafted in the 1st round. Solid minor league progression but never anything like Marte's 2012. But other seasons have some similarity. Colvin had a nice rookie MLB year in 2010 then a disastrous 2011. But has returned in 2012 with outstanding results after being traded to Colorado. Not a perfect comp for Marte because the paths were so different. Colvin was steady-Eddy in his progression but minus the monster season.

Ryan Flaherty, Cubs
Very similar to Colvin. Good college hitter with steady minor league path. Just arrived in Majors this year and is struggling so far. Not a perfect comp as he's lacking anything like the monster season Marte is posting.

John Bowker, San Francisco
Another college hitter. Big rookie minor league season. Couple of so-so lower level years like Marte. Then a breakout AA season like Marte but still a notch below. Has been bouncing back and forth between AAA and Major League bench job. Not a bad comp as numbers are similar. Another downside comp based on reality of Marte's 2012 season.

Aaron Luna, St. Louis
Not the best comp. Breakout AA season included monster walk totals but 1/2 the home run rate and RBI rate. Still languishing in the minors. Nothing else in his background screams Marte's production.

Kory Casto, Washington
Not the worst comp. Breakout High A and AA seasons in 2005 and 2006. Regressed at AAA. Got a couple cups of coffee in the majors but couldn't do anything with it. Out of baseball. Another downside comp if Marte's season is a fluke but again, Casto's breakout season at AA was nothing close to Marte's.

Chris Lubanski, Kansas City
1st round pick of the Royals in 2003. Breakout year was in High Desert of the California League, and we know what a launching pad that is. Had a subsequent AA year that barely qualified for this comp. Had a pretty good AAA season in 2010 in the PCL but hardly enough to warrant serious attention. Out of baseball. Not a good comp as all good stats are due to park-favoring factors.

Cole Gillespie, Milwaukee
Yes, that Cole Gillespie. Another who barely qualified for this comp. Good AAA player who can't handle big league pitching. No monster minor league seasons like Marte is having. Not a good comp.

Dexter Fowler, Colorado
Not a good comp. Fowler tends toward speed versus power and plays center field.

Mike Carp, NY Mets
Not the best comp for Marte. Carp showed power potential from the get-go and has been more consistent through his progression without the monster season. Bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors now.

Starling Marte, Pittsburgh
23-year-old Dominican his 2nd DSL season was nearly identical to Alfredo's. Starling progressed more productively than Alfredo with +.800 OPS seasons at low A and High A before another step forward at AA in 2010. Power numbers have not progressed like Alfredo's and his breakout AA season still not at the same level as Alfredo's. Considered a Top 10 Pittsburgh prospect but has not reached the majors yet. Was actually mentioned in Fox Sports article today as possible piece in an Upton trade. I'll take Alfredo for my money. A very good comp but no major league results to work from yet.

Conclusion
As mentioned above, it really depends if Marte's 2012 first half is an aberration or not. His 2007 DSL season and 2011 Visalia seasons at least had signs that he had it in him. So it might be better than 50/50 that he's the real deal. There are simply very few AA seasons that compare to Marte's 2012 first half, that's how good it is. It doesn't always look sexy because the average is a hair under .300 and the home run totals aren't ridiculous. But the OPS, the ISO and wRC+ say it is an elite level performance. He's a little older than some of the really special players who put up those kinds of numbers, and I'm talking about the Justin Upton's and the Mike Trout's when I say that, but he's not too old to be beyond the legitimate prospect status.
As far as comps go, he rates right there with some really good players. Domonic Brown might be the best comp and it's not beyond reason that Hunter Pence turns out to be a good comp. Pence had the exact same season at the same age as Marte, and he's not the speed guy that everyone perceives him to be, though he's probably a hair above Marte. But it's not a crazy stretch to think Marte could produce like Pence in the future.
The downside comps include guys like Scott Van Slyke and Matt Laporta which would make Marte a fringe major leaguer bouncing between AAA and the majors. But at the risk of repeating myself, none of the downside comp guys ever had a season like Marte's 2012. Another factor in Marte's favor about this year is that his BABIP is right at league average so he's not getting a bunch of lucky hits in that regard. He's on pace for almost 30 homers and 100 RBI. The issue now is his health as he just returned to the lineup a couple of days ago after missing two weeks with an apparent leg injury. He also missed a chunk of 2011 due to injury, so staying healthy is a key for him.

Arrival Time
I expect Marte to head to AAA either this year or next with a possible major league arrival date of 2014 to possibly replace Kubel in left field. If Upton or Young are traded that might accelerate his arrival as he has already passed Borchering on the prospect list and might be favored ahead of both Krauss and Eaton. His relatively low K-rate for a corner outfielder with power gives him a better chance than most to make it at the next level. It might be a little wishful thinking to say he'll be the next Hunter Pence but he's looking a lot like Domonic Brown who is holding his own at the major league level but isn't doing anything special yet. But he still has time. We'll be watching Marte's second half very closely to see if he can keep producing at such an impressive level. If he can, he projects as a future starting outfielder for the Diamondbacks. If he can't, he projects as a fringe major leaguer or as a reliable 4th corner outfielder. In any case, it's exciting to see legitimate prospects emerge from out of almost nowhere. And Marte is producing as a legitimate prospect, so here's hoping he can keep it up.

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