DENVER -- Amid all the buzz about Starling Marte, one question has been relatively ignored: Is he ready for the Major Leagues and, if not, for what are Pirates talent evaluators still waiting? Two weeks prior to the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, Marte's destination is a hot topic. The Pittsburgh outfield? Arizona, in a trade for Justin Upton? Victory Field, for the rest of the Indianapolis Indians' Triple-A season? Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Tuesday gave a succinct update on Marte's progress, and how close it has brought him to a big-league debut.
"He's improving on all the things we asked him to work on: Walks-strikeouts numbers, chase-swinging, being aggressive on the bases, stealing bases, getting good leads, putting the ball on the ground," Hurdle said. A natural center fielder, a job not available in Pittsburgh, Marte's biggest remaining project is finding the same level of comfort in the corners of the outfield. "We did see him struggle in right field in Spring Training," Hurdle reminded. "We want to get him some more games in the corners. He profiles for the big left field in PNC Park, and his arm will play in right field. "We also want to make sure we assess the talent we have here, that we don't miss on things going on right now. We'll try to figure it out one day at a time." After a slow start to his first Triple-A season, Marte's bat has burned through the International League. He is hitting .291 and his 101 hits include 41 for extra bases, a very interesting mix of 17 doubles, 13 triples and 11 home runs. The biggest red flag for the Pirates still could be Marte's baserunning smarts. When he arrives, the Bucs will want to turn his speed into a major tool, but having been caught 12 times in 30 stolen base attempts means that he may still have work to do in that regard.