A scout told me via text last summer to keep an eye on shortstop Ketel Marte. I’d seen him the previous summer at Short-season Everett, and while I liked him I didn’t come away believing I just watched a future major league regular. What I did see, however, no longer exists.
Marte, over the past 20 months or so, has changed his entire profile. He’s now more than a slap hitter, has shown consistent swings from both sides of the plate and has shored up some of the rougher edges of his defense. He’s showing smoother, easier actions in the field, has put on about 15 pounds and still is a plus runner.
There’s little doubt Marte has the range to stay at shortstop, but whether or not he’s going to have the consistent footwork and hands, and hit consistently, remains in question. Two years ago, he didn’t display the chops for it; he needed to get a lot stronger, and still does, had red-flag flaws in his setup, swing and overall approach and simply put he appeared to be another Gabriel Noriega — all glove, no stick.
In 2013 and early in 2014, Marte has shown a significantly improved swing, starting with the plane and path, that now gives him a chance to reach the gaps and produce more line drives, rather than being a ground ball machine. He has bat speed and the swing is short to the ball. The Dominican native is a legitimate prospect.
There still are some flaws in the swing, particularly from the left side — which happens to be his strong side in terms of power. He’s a bit stiff on his back leg and that same leg tends to rotate ahead his front side, at times causing some imbalance and exposing the outer portion of the plate. He’s a bit upright for my taste, and starts with his hands too high, but he does cover the vertical zone very well, it’s just that outer quarter that better pitching will pound. As a right-handed batter, Marte is simpler and more compact and doesn’t have the issue with the back side of his frame. He also follows through better, and with both hands staying on the bat longer. In the end, he may be better as a right-handed bat.
Marte, though, is just 20 years of age and is handling himself well at Double-A Jackson. While he’s not likely to ever hit for much power he does appear to give himself a great chance at consistent hard contact, he understands the strike zone, handles the bat very well and, again, can run.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds there is still room for physical growth and that could help Marte add a bit more pop to his game as he continues to develop. He’s likely to spend all of 2014 in the Southern League attempting to do so.
I’m not calling him the next Jose Reyes or an elite talent by any stretch, but he’s gone from organizational fodder to potential major-league regular in a year and a half. He won’t turn 21 until after this season, suggesting there’s plenty of time for him to develop at the plate and perhaps off the Seattle Mariners an asset that not many clubs have: shortstop depth.
Marte ranked at No. 19 in the 2014 Prospect Insider Handbook, and he’s on his way to cracking the Top 15, if not the Top 10, by season’s end.