Fans are also anxious to see if any of these players have the potential to contribute in 2016 and beyond. In recent weeks, a popular veteran – Franklin Gutiérrez – returned to Seattle from Tacoma and one of the organization’s most enigmatic players – Jesús Montero made a brief visit with the Mariners before returning to the Rainiers.
Based on the warm fan reaction he’s received at Safeco Field, fans are happy to have “Guti” back. Based on social media, I think that it’s fair to say that many Mariners faithful would have liked to see a longer audition for Montero and – perhaps – that will still happen in 2015. There’s another Rainier who fans are anxious to see in Seattle –infielder Ketel Marte. Prospect Insider has mentioned the 21-year-old’s on field potential (OFP) often. Just over a year ago, PI’s founder –Jason A. Churchill – discussed the ascension of the 21-year-old switch-hitting infielder and his potential in great detail.
As Jason chronicled, Marte has established himself as an offensive table-setter. His speed and contact-hitting ability – both currently in short demand in Seattle – would be a welcome addition at the top of the Mariners lineup. Entering yesterday’s game, Prospect Insider’s number-two Mariners prospect had a .315/.359/.403 slash with the Rainiers. His 17 stolen bases coming into yesterday’s game ranked him number-eight in the Pacific Coast League despite the fact that he missed about six weeks with a broken thumb. The most intriguing aspect of Marte’s professional progression is the fact that he played in center field for the first time in his professional career last Thursday night and that this may be his quickest route to the majors.
As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish recently pointed out in a tweet, scouts and and some Mariners personnel believe that Marte doesn’t project as a major league shortstop. The other position Marte has played in the minors – second base – is occupied in Seattle by Robinson Canó.
Opposing scouts and even some people within the Mariners have said that Marte doesn’t project as a MLB level shortstop.
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 24, 2015
With Cano entrenched at second base, exploring other options with a speedster like Marte is a logical progression for an organization that has no center field prospects close to being major league ready. Jason alluded to the possibility of Marte moving to center field earlier this month in his mid-season prospect rankings.
Last night, I had the opportunity to witness Marte play in person for the first time against the Fresno Grizzlies at Cheney Stadium. Anytime you go to a game to watch a specific player, there’s a chance that he won’t see much action in the field and that’s the part of Marte’s game that interested me most. Luckily for me, several balls with varying degrees of difficulty were hit his way throughout the game.
Early in the game, Marte seemed to have no issues with balls that were hit to his left and right, but he did misplay two balls that were hit directly at him after the stadium lights had taken full effect. On both occasions, he lost balls in the lights. One ball landed about 20 feet behind him, while the other fell about the same distance in front him. Unfortunately for Tacoma and their new center fielder, both miscues led to Fresno runs. I didn’t get to see how his throwing ability, which was inconsistent at shortstop and the primary reason he doesn’t project as a major league starter at that position. He did throw out a runner who tried to advance from second to third base on the misplayed ball that landed in front of him.
On the offensive front, the switch-hitter has struggled at the plate recently batting .227 in his ten previous games. But, he extended a modest five game hitting streak with a single in the first inning. Afterwards, he promptly stole second base and then scored easily on a Jesus Montero double. For the night, he had two singles – one from each side of the plate – and a stolen base in five at-bats.
This is not the first time that the Mariners have moved a shortstop to center field. In 2005, Seattle made the same move with Adam Jones, who is now an all-star patrolling center field for the Baltimore Orioles. Jones’ permanent transition started in the Arizona Fall League prior to his debut at Class AAA-level.
Before Marte changed positions, he had spent about 75-percent of his 433 professional games playing shortstop and the remainder patrolling second base. That’s about 160 more minor league games than Jones had as a shortstop before switching. If Seattle plans to make Marte’s move to center field permanent, having him play in the Arizona Fall League this year would make a great deal of sense since there are just over 40 remaining on Tacoma’s schedule. To give you a little perspective, Jones played 179 games in center field before debuting in the majors.
One game is too small of a sample size to make a coherent assessment on any player – let alone a shortstop transitioning to center field with a whopping three games of experience at the position. That’s why I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to watch the young speedster at his new position. I believe that he possesses the athleticism and skill set required to improve after last night’s difficulties and flourish in center field, but only more playing time will determine if I’m correct. In the interim, Mariners fans will just have to wait patiently for the potential that Ketel Marte may eventually deliver in Seattle.