Churchill: Marte’s promotion

The Seattle Mariners appear to have recalled Ketel Marte from Triple-A Tacoma, most likely to play some second base while Robinson Cano recovers from an abdominal strain. Chris Taylor was sent back to Tacoma to clear roster space.

Marte sat out Thursday’s game in El Paso after originally being in the lineup, Prospect Insider learned just prior to the game. There are no other logical choices to replace Taylor on the roster, however, but no confirmation from the team has been received.

Marte had played three straight games in center field as an apparent start to his transition to the position from his natural shortstop. Thursday night’s move likely means absolutely nothing in regards to the club’s future plans for the 22-year-old.

So why call him up at all?

First of all, he’d played shortstop his last three games, so clearly they weren’t set to go all-out on the move to the outfield. Second, if he comes up and plays for a week or so in the big leagues until Cano can play the field again, no harm done. It’s also worth noting that his option-clock started back in March when he didn’t make the big club and was sent to Tacoma to start the season. He will begin 2016 with two options left whether he was recalled Thursday, in September or neither. The service time he accrues isn’t likely to be an issue, either, since he’s not going to be ready for a call-up next year until his defense in center field catches up, which in my estimation gets him into the summer months, sometime after the Super Two cutoff lands.

The rush job in young players occurs when the player isn’t ready to handle the task and his presence and experience at the new level becomes more of a hindrance to the club and/or the player’s development. A short time simply cannot serve as such.

There’s value, too, in the club getting to see how Marte handles himself, particularly at the plate, versus major league pitching — even in a short stint of 15-30 plate appearances, if indeed his stay is that short.

Marte’s position change isn’t really set back, either, since he’s still very likely to hit the Arizona Fall League to get reps there, then start 2016 at Triple-A Tacoma as the regular center fielder. The chances Marte was going to open next season as a big-league starter in center were and still are closer to zero than any other number.

I typically dislike interrupting a player’s development — in this case, Marte’s bat and positional move — especially for what may be a short-term look. The potential damage, however, is extremely minimal and there may be some upside to it, particularly at the plate.

As for Taylor being pushed back to Triple-A, well, this move is about Marte, not Taylor, and that’s as clear as day, despite Taylor’s offensive struggles in what amounts to spot duty in the majors.

Taylor remains a potential major-league value, but thus far his bat hasn’t shown the consistency clubs are going to want, even in a solid defensive shortstop.

Ketel Marte Scouting Report
Here is what I wrote on Marte a few weeks back in the Mid-Season Prospect Rankings:
2. Ketel Marte, SS
Marte jumps from No. 6 to the No. 2 spot despite missing time with a hand injury. The switch hitter showed more consistency from either side of the plate versus the more-experienced Triple-A pitching and perhaps most importantly answered some of the questions about his defense at shortstop. He’s looked like a glove that could very well stick with solid range to both sides, improved consistency across the board and a better understanding of what is required of him defensively. Marte, 21, will play in the Futures Game this weekend putting his plus speed on display. He makes a ton of contact, can handle the bat and could give the Mariners another solid option up the middle as early as 2016. He’s exactly what the big club lacks right now — high contact, low strikeout, plus speed — but anything more than a September call-up this season is expecting too much. Perhaps the most intriguing option for Marte’s future is a switch to center field, where his athleticism, pure speed and arm play and the club has absolutely no 2016 answers anywhere in sight. It’s a move the Mariners could make this summer in preparation, and one I’m not only an advocate for, but have been anticipating for over a year.

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Here is what I wrote in the Pre-season Rankings:
No. 6 — Ketel Marte, SS
Marte has spent his entire career among the younger players in his league and at 21 will take on the Triple-A Pacific Coast League after a successful run in Double-A Jackson last season that earned him three weeks in Tacoma to end the season.

Marte makes consistent contact, thanks to a short swing and aggressive approach. He handles the bat well, is a plus bunter and runner and plays the game with advanced instincts, in the batter’s box, on the bases and in the field.

Marte has the range, footwork and arm strength to play shortstop, but fundamentally breaks down too often, making mistakes on routine plays and forcing tough throws when he should eat the baseball.

If he can clean up such problems, he’s a future regular at the position and a potential No. 2 hitter in a traditional style. There’s not a lot of power in the bat from either side of the plate, though his right-handed swing generates more leverage, but he knows how to use his speed and can reach the gaps. As he gets stronger, double-digit home runs is not out of the question, however.

If Marte has to move to second base — a change that will not be made permanently for at least another year — there is a chance he’s among the better defenders in the game at the position, though he’s not likely to see much time there in the big leagues as a member of the Mariners organization.

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Marte was Prospect Insider’s 2014 M’s Prospect of the Year last season, jumping on the radar with a big season at the plate and flashing the tools to play up the middle. He’s a very good athlete with at least 65-grade speed bolstered by good base-stealing technique and an ability to read pitchers well.

With the bat, the switch hitter has improved from the right side — his minor league career has produced better numbers as a lefty stick — and makes a lot of contact from both sides. He’a a slasher who does not generate a lot of backspin, instead looking to hit hard ground balls and line drives, utilizing his speed. He’s a good bunter and can bunt for hits, especially from the left side where he drags as well as anyone in the organization.

I don’t love how high he starts his hands, but in lieu of a needless load it may be imperative in his attempt to avoid fly balls that would die in defender’s gloves. He does cover the plate well and uses the ‘5.5’ as a lefty and he’s progressed using the middle of the field as a right-handed batter.

He’s not Jose Reyes in his prime and is not a finished product by any stretch. Marte, though, ultimately has a chance to be an average regular, perhaps a bit more if he continues to develop as a hitter.

If Marte plays well in Cano’s absence the club will be tempted to keep him up the rest of the season. But if they’re serious about his move to center field, Marte should head back to Tacoma and get more experience out there so he can hit the ground running in the Arizona Fall League. Each game he spends out there cuts his ETA to the big leagues by the same number, and asking him to learn it in the majors makes no sense. A mistake in the big-league spotlight deters confidence that can be carried to the rest of Marte’s game. That would be yet another player development error for the Seattle Mariners, and they’re long beyond being able to absorb another one of those.

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Jason A. Churchill

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