PHOENIX -- Possessing a first name that indicates exactly what the Pirates believe he can become, Starling Marte had an inerasable grin on his face in the hours preceding Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game.
After taking his turn in the World Team's batting practice, Marte returned to the clubhouse clutching a framed photo collage of his 2009 season in low-A West Virginia. It was a gift given to him by a fan, yet also a timely reminder of how impressive Marte's climb has been since then.
The Pirates' only representative in the Futures Game, Marte finished 1-for-3 with a single in five innings played. He started in center and batted leadoff for the World Team.
Marte didn't have an opportunity to showcase his above-average arm or game-changing speed, but given his development since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Marte absolutely belonged among such elite company for a day.
"It's very exciting to be here with some of the players who are the best in the game," Marte said, speaking through a translator provided by Major League Baseball. "To be included among them is very exciting."
Arguably the organization's top position-player prospect, Marte has been a star in the Eastern League all season. Making the move to Double-A after an impressive 2010 campaign that was marred only by a hand injury, Marte has not seen his production stalled.
He arrived in Phoenix ranked second in the EL in hits with 102 through 79 games. He has 16 stolen bases, though that doesn't begin to highlight the speed he can bring on the basepath and in center field. He is becoming so defensively sound and has such an impressive arm that some would argue that Marte could push Andrew McCutchen out of center field in Pittsburgh in the not-so-distant future.
That's quite an endorsement.
"[I] just want to focus on being able to help the team as much as I can and not to be overwhelmed," Marte said. "It can be overwhelming once you get there. Hopefully [I] can be prepared for that."
"He can do some things on the baseball field that are really exciting," added general manager Neal Huntington.
At 22 years of age, Marte said he isn't thinking about a timetable, though that doesn't mean people in Pittsburgh aren't. The Pirates have no interest in rushing Marte's development, but the outfielder is making a case for a promotion.
If he isn't in Triple-A Indianapolis by season's end, Marte should begin the 2012 season there. A debut in Pittsburgh later next season is hardly unimaginable.
"Any time a player is at the upper levels, he's in a position to potentially impact Pittsburgh in the near future," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "How he continues to develop this year will impact his time frame."
Refining Marte's raw tools remains the immediate priority. His speed can make more of an impact on the bases and his plate discipline is not that of a Major-League ready player. Marte has drawn only 63 walks in 314 career Minor League games. In comparison, he has struck out 265 times.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.