Faithful commenter Rick is somewhat skeptical that I keep touting Aaron Barbosa, who doesn’t even bother to hit doubles while at the hitters’ haven that is High Desert.
Actually, he says: “Sure the eye is nice, but it’s hard to imagine a guy like Barbosa – or anybody – moving up the ladder with a .665 OPS in High Desert.”
It is hard to imagine … except for the guy who moved up the ladder with a .626 OPS from High Desert!
And that would be Ketel Marte (first name pronounced as in cookware).
And, as it happens, those two might be the hottest tickets in Mariner prospect-land right now.
- Apparently Marte flashed so much leather in the Dominican at 17 that they couldn’t wait for short-season ball to start to see what they had. So they sent him to Low-A Clinton for a cameo before heading off to Everett where he posted a staggering (-ly low).560 OPS.
- Then Clinton for real at 19, except that he didn’t even spend a full year there before a few weeks at High Desert in August, and then right on up to AA at 20.
That’s your basic “meteoric” rise. All done with a career OPS smack dab on Rick’s .665.
- Northeastern University College of Engineering. He didn’t get drafted, but might as well play in the Cape Cod League to brush up for senior year. He lights it up, the Mariners get his name on a free-agent deal, and next thing he knows he’s in Pulaski, Virginia. He reaches base 55 times in 30 games, swipes 19 bags, and …
- In 2014 leaps all the way to High-A High Desert after just four games at Clinton.
Someone likes these guys.
Q: Why should we care?
A: Speedy promotion is generally a very good sign. Most successful major leaguers skipped a level or cleared more than one level in the same year. Because they could. It’s not foolproof (see, e.g., Triunfel, Carlos), but development staff are usually pretty good at narrowing down the ones who are “special.”
Are these two “special”? Given that they tend to visit the mid-600 OPS area code fairly often?
- Gloves! Barbosa a speedy center fielder; Marte a dazzling (but sometimes mistake-prone) shortstop.
- Speed! Barbosa has the all-time record for steals at Northeastern. Not impressed yet? OK, he swiped 19 in his first 30 games last year. Marte had 20 last year, and 14 already this season (though he tends to get caught a lot).
- Hard-to-strike-out-ed-ness! Marte has struck out just 11.8% of plate appearances in his minors career. Barbosa: 14.4%. When you have speed and can put the ball in play, good things will happen.
- Walks! … or, not. OK, here’s where Marte gets off the bus. He has only a 5.8% BB-rate. So he’s going to be pretty much dependent on BABIP. But he’s done all right that way. He has a .337 BABIP so far in 2014 and .327 last year. Low-K, low-BB, high-BABIP can be done (see, e.g., Suzuki, Ichiro).
- Again … Walks! OK, with Barbosa it’s real. A kind-of-jaw-dropping 16.9% BB-rate so far. Plus the speed and the glove and the low-K-rate. He won’t need much ISO to bring his OPS out of the basement.
But, true, Barbosa hasn’t been bringing the ISO, even in High Desert (only two extra-base hits so far). In a way, though, I kind of admire him for not tying to alter his game to take advantage. The guy will hit some doubles (someday, probably), and his ISO will not be purely feeble (it was .060 in Pulaski).
Marte, meanwhile, has been getting some notices for hitting the ball with more authority, and his ISO has climbed from .030 to .069 to .088.
Am I bringing up the I-word again? Yes, Ichiro’s career ISO is .095 and he was under .100 in half his seasons in Seattle.
And neither of these guys will be playing right field.
There have been comments about whether Seattle should try to build a speedy, disruptive, good-glove Whitey-Herzog-type team. Maybe that’s part of the equation in Safeco.
Here’s two guys to start building with, OPS or no.