PHOENIX – Alfredo Marte was the best player in the Southern League All-Star Game two weeks ago, according to the judges. He had two hits, a double and a run-scoring single, and also scored a run in the first three innings to help the South all-stars to their first victory in seven years.
In a game peppered with Diamondbacks’ prospects from Class AA Mobile – David Nick, Matt Davidson, Marc Krauss and Marte started and batted 2-3-4-5 in the order, and left-hander Tyler Skaggs started on the mound and got the victory – Marte added to his best season after one of his worst.
He was suspended for 50 games in 2011 for violation of major league baseball’s substance abuse policy after testing positive for metabolites of performance-enhancing Stanozolol in January, an issue he and the D-backs would just as soon forget.
Marte, a center fielder, entered the all-star game with a Southern League-leading 13 home runs, and he still ranks among the league leaders with 14 despite missing the last five games with a slight hamstring injury.
“He has always been able to hit,” D-backs player development director Mike Bell said.
Marte had planned to return to his native Dominican Republic during the team’s all-star break, but that changed when he made the team, a move that was hardly unexpected.
That led to another unscheduled appearance, as he was selected to represent the World team in the annual Futures Game featuring top minor league prospects on July 8 in Kansas City. The hamstring issue is not expected to keep Marte from playing.
With his positive test apparently in the rear-view mirror, Marte has taken a big step forward in his return to the field full time.
He is a player the D-backs have liked since he was signed in 2006 at age 16 by Latin America super scout Junior Noboa, who has a track record for identifying top talent. Noboa was the only scout prescient enough to notice Miguel Montero’s full baseball/leadership skill set when he was 16, and his recent signs include young prospects Wagner Mateo and the studiously named Socrates Brito, both just beginning to work their way through the system.
Marte, 23, took baby steps in his first six years with the D-backs, beginning with two season at the normal starting point in the Dominican Summer League, before gradually putting things together. He hit .260 with nine homers and 61 RBI in Visalia in 2010 before losing half of 2011.
Marte has more home runs at the halfway point of 2012 than in any of his four previous seasons in the U.S., and he ranks among the Southern League top five in slugging percentage (.579, first), OPS (.945, second), RBI (49, third) homers (14, tied for second) and total bases (128, fourth) entering the final weekend of June.
It has not shocked the D-backs, who see ability oozing from the 6-foot, 190-pounder.
“It’s just a short, simple, compact swing. He’s able to generate some bat speed with it,” Bell said this week.
“Maybe his numbers weren’t what they are right now, but you could see it. I think he was just a young man learning to hit. It’s not that surprising what he is doing right now offensively. He’s athletic. He has the kind of body that he will be able to maintain. He takes good care of himself.”
Marte also has showed the range and improved arm that are required of a center fielder, especially one who could land at spacious Chase Field if he continues to progress. Marte had one the best arms in the organization when he signed, but a shoulder issue that cropped up during his time in the Dominican League slowed him. The injury did not require surgery, but it did cost him velocity that is just now returning to major league average.
“He’s covering a lot more ground in the outfield,” said Bell, adding that the shoulder issue “was just kind of a stubborn little thing. It took him a few years to get past it.”
Because Marte is among a deep pool of D-backs outfield prospects, he is likely to spend the rest of the season with the BayBears. A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton are playing well at Class AAA Reno, and Krauss also is having a good year at Mobile.