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Remembering 2013: Andy Marte profile

The dreaded off-season has arrived.  But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, re-visit the career of third baseman Andy Marte, who began last season in York but ended it in the Angels organization, and has signed with the Diamondbacks for 2014.  Previously, Marte had played in the Majors for the Braves and Indians, and discussed his career with Ron Gardner.

Marte, Andy 15

By Ron Gardner

There’s no getting around the fact that Revs’ third baseman Andy Marte has endured years of some downright awful commentary from people who write about Major League Baseball for a living.

To understand why that is, we first need to go back in time to the winter of 2005.  Marte, who the Atlanta Braves signed as an international free agent in 2000 as a precocious 16-year-old from Villa Tapia, Dominican Republic, was coming off a monster 2004 season with the Braves’ Double-A affiliate in Greenville, SC that simply wowed minor league talent evaluators.

“The best prospect in baseball and a future superstar,” the highly respected Baseball Prospectus raved about Marte.  “As a 20-year-old toiling in the mostly hitter-unfriendly Southern League … in only 387 at-bats, he smacked 52 extra-base hits (including 23 home runs). He’s got monstrous power and a broad base of hitting skills.”

Another prestigious baseball publication, Baseball America, ranked Marte as one of its top 50 prospects four straight years, including top-15 spots from 2004-06.  Surely, it seemed, Major League stardom was Marte’s future calling. But being a third baseman in the Atlanta farm system in that era came with its own unique challenge in the form of a likely future Hall of Famer and face-of-the-franchise named Chipper Jones, who had a death grip on the third base position for the Braves.

Heading into that 2005 season, anxious to clear the way for Marte’s power bat to debut in Atlanta, the Braves asked Jones to consider switching back to playing left field, his everyday spot during the 2002-03 seasons.  Jones initially agreed to give the left field job a shot to open up third base for Marte, but Jones quickly soured on a full-time return to the outfield.

“He tried to play there in spring training and he woke up one day and said I’m not playing left field,” Marte said.  “(Then) they tried me in left field and my arm started bothering me – it’s a different (throwing) mechanic.”

So, instead of opening the season at third with the big-league club, Marte was sent to Atlanta’s Triple-A  team in Richmond, VA.  When Jones went down with an injured left foot, Marte was called up and made his big-league debut on June 7 against the Angels.  He collected his first big-league RBI that night on a sacrifice fly, his first-big league hit four days later against Oakland, but after hitting just .159 in 16 games (52 ABs) for Braves, Marte was back in Triple-A by mid-July.  A September recall didn’t go any better, with Marte’s batting average in the Majors falling to .140 with 0 home runs, 4 RBIs with just three extra-base hits by season’s end.

“And that …” as Marte says today, “… was that.”

While still universally considered a premiere prospect (his 2005 Triple-A stats included a .275 average, 20 home runs and 75 RBIs), the Braves stunned their fans and baseball establishment that December by dealing Marte to the Boston Red Sox for aging shortstop Edgar Renteria.   Even stranger still was that just six weeks later, Boston flipped Marte to the Cleveland Indians as part of a complex package deal that brought Coco Crisp to the Red Sox.  Teams don’t typically trade away 22-year-old slugging prospects with Marte’s prolific minor league credentials – being traded twice in rapid-fire style had red flags flying everywhere concerning Marte.

“If somebody wants me, it’s good,” Marte said, adding that the trade from Atlanta certainly was certainly a stunner for him as well.  “Anybody who wants me to do my job, it’s good.  I got to winter ball and nobody wanted me.”

Over the next five seasons, the Indians gave Marte several chances to secure the job as their everyday third baseman in the Majors, but he continually struggled against big-league pitching.  Coaches suggested changes in his batting stance, where Marte held his hands at the start of his swing, do this, do that – desperately hoping to rediscover that sweet batting stroke from his early years in the minors.  It never happened as Marte bounced back and forth multiple times from Triple-A to the Majors, hitting just .218 with a .277 on-base percentage in 924 plate appearances as a big leaguer, his play never earning him 250 at bats in a season.  Following the 2010 season, the Indians decided to release Marte.

In 2011, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A team in Indianapolis (.202/7 HR/37 RBI) and last season, with family issues at home in the Dominican Republic and no offers from any MLB organization, Marte decided to take a year off from baseball in the U.S., before signing with the Revolution this season.  With York, Marte’s long nightmare in the batter’s box finally seems to be over.  In his first 80 games with the Revs, Marte ranked third in the Atlantic League in home runs (15) and second in RBI (60), along with a spiffy .298 average.

“What I’ve been thinking right now is that I’ve got to be more consistent,” Marte said.  “That’s what I didn’t do in the big leagues.  I know I didn’t play every day there and I’ve got to understand my rules.  If they tell me that they want me to play two days a week, I’ve got to be ready for those two days.  I don’t think I prepared myself to be a utility player, because all my career in the minor leagues I was playing every day and sometimes I got in trouble, (because) I knew I’m going to be out there (and) it doesn’t matter what I did the day before.  The big leagues are not like that.  The big leagues they give you one, two games, if you’re young.  They’re going to sit you on the bench.

“Those pitchers in the big leagues, they don’t make many mistakes.  But you’ve got to go out there and be relaxed and try to have fun. That’s hard to do.”

It was harder still for Marte to rekindle any realistic opportunities that could provide him the chance he craves to return to the major leagues.

“I’m 29, but I still think I can still play in the big leagues,” Marte said.  “I think it was a good decision for me to come here.  I can be better still.  I’m not hitting the ball to the opposite way like I want to.  I need to work more on that.  But after that, I think I’m being patient and swinging at more strikes.

“I’m trying to play hard here, so maybe somebody will pick me up and I can finish the season with an affiliated team.  But if it doesn’t happen, (I will) just try to put up good numbers here and then go back and play winter ball in the Dominican and maybe I can go to Japan or whatever …  or spring training (with a MLB organization).”

More than a handful of years have now passed since Marte was lavished with praise and celebrated as baseball’s next great superstar.  Those cheers are long since gone, replaced by cynical jeers and sneers. A quick internet search leads to baseball pundits debating whether Marte was the biggest prospect bust of the 2000s.  It’s a tough legacy for a player whose future once gleamed so brightly, but Marte is far from being ready to concede that his big-league aspirations are over.

“I’m not happy with the performance I (had) in the big leagues,” Marte said.  “That’s why I’m trying to get back and prove that I can play there.  My numbers in the minor leagues, I think they’re okay.  But that’s not what I want.  What I want is to put up some good numbers in the big leagues.

“I had almost six years in the big leagues.  Not everybody can make it.  Hundreds and hundreds of players – they don’t even get to Double-A.  I got six years in the big leagues – it’s not all bad.”

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