World Future's All-Star Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Starling Marte is making his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, and he's a new kind of Pirates prospect for an unusually successful Pirates team.
Just about every '80s sci-fi movie about the future included some kind of super-powerful fictitious drug. There'd be a scene with the future character getting future high on the future drug, and you were supposed to think, man, those future drugs are crazy.
There a handful of good things that come along with following a bad team. Fantastic seats are usually available. You get street cred when the bad team eventually does well. And you get the incredible high that comes with dreaming about top prospects. When they're called up … man. All of those '80s movies should have named their future drugs after top prospects.
Stellick it's … it's your partner. He was stabbed … he was stabbed by a junkie hopped up on Greg Brock
That's all bad teams have. Prospects. Prospects come with dreams. The rookies never failed to get to a World Series while you were watching, so that must be a good sign. The prospects usher in a new era, and you can write the script of the new era without actually watching it. The hope and promise of prospects is a controlled substance for fans of a bad team.
And for most of the past 20 years, Starling Marte would have been a way for Pirates fans to forget about being Pirates fans. He would have been a way to dream about a perennial powerhouse, a Pirates roster that would make everyone look toward the wretched teams with a certain sense of nostalgia. Remember way back then? Remember when the Pirates were bad? And you'd settle in to watch him lead a Pirates team with a chance to advance to the NLCS. That's the dream. That's the break from reality an ounce of prospect will get you, and you'll worry about the John Van Benschoten-like hangover later.
But Marte isn't that kind of prospect for Pirates fans right now. He's a reinforcement. He's a working cog on a team that wants to go to the playoffs. The dreams are still there, the images of him in the back of a convertible rolling down … uh, Pittsburgh Avenue … as confetti flies all around him. But they're secondary. Right now, the important thing is that he needs to hit right away.
He might, too. He's a raw, toolsy hitter and, at 23, somewhat on the older side for a raw, toolsy hitter. He's hit just about everywhere he's gone, though:
Moves up a level, hits about the same. Moves up a level, hits about the same. Always swinging. Often missing. Usually hitting. He has plus speed and defense, as well. You can see why Pirates fans are excited.
The default criticism is going to be with his plate discipline, as anyone can look at the strikeout-to-walk ratio and see that's something's off. It's a valid criticism. But my unscientific hope is that Marte will befuddle pitchers the first time around the league, getting hits on pitches that most players couldn't touch, and that this will last a few weeks or a couple of months. The relevant comp: Will Middlebrooks, who had iffy strikeout-to-walk numbers in the minors, but looked like a perennial All-Star for two months before he fell into a predictable slump.
For once, that's all the Pirates need. If Marte came up at any point over the past 18 years, he'd be another great eye-patched hope, the kind you'd study with a microscope during a 9-1 loss because what else are you going to do? Now the Pirates want him to be a mystery to the other team, a jolt to the clubhouse. They want him to zip around the outfield like a waterbug and get doubles on pitches at his shoe tops, and they need it now.
There's a chance he could hit .178 with three walks and 38 strikeouts in his first 100 plate appearances, of course.
There's an upside, though. A very real, very attainable upside for a team that isn't going to be satisfied with a .500 season now, even if that was something of a best-case scenario in the spring. Keep dreaming about that future with Marte. Keep imagining the ticker-tape parade, and the dynasty that started one night in Houston. But also appreciate that the last two or three months of the season might be where Marte makes the most important contributions of his Pirates career. It's been a while since we could say that about a Pirates prospect.