Last season, Starling Marte
posted some gaudy numbers with Double-A Altoona, winning the Eastern League batting title with a .332 average, ranking among the leaders with 38 doubles and adding 12 stolen bases.
Things haven't come quite as easily this year for Marte, but the 23-year-old is quickly proving he will soon master the IL and earn a promotion to Pittsburgh.
The native of the Dominican Republic hit .256 with four homers and 19 RBIs over the first two months of the season. But he went 3-for-4 on June 1 to kick-start an explosion that saw him bat .364 that month with four homers and 28 RBIs.
"I got off to a little bit of a slow start," Marte said in Spanish through interpreter Will Fleming, one of the Indians' radio announcers. "But I feel I've gotten better. I wasn't familiar with pitchers at the Triple-A level, but I've learned them the second time through the league and I think I've started to improve since then."
In his first 95 games with Indianapolis, Marte hit .279 with 11 homers, 58 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 19 steals. The young outfielder ranks sixth in the IL in RBIs, second in runs scored and is tied for fourth in stolen bases; in fact, the only negative is his 87 strikeouts.
"We've seen a lot of growth," Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. "[He's working] on strike-zone discipline and discipline with off-speed pitches. He had some struggles early, but he's made some big strides.
"He's much more disciplined at the plate. He'll have his moments, but he has a better idea of what pitchers are trying to do to him. Lately, we've had some conversations, and he has surprised me with what his thoughts are and his approach is. And that's surprised in a great way. It's exactly what we're trying to get him to do."
Marte also has been strong defensively, despite a recent shift from center field -- which he's played throughout most of his pro career -- to left field. The move should help him fit into a Pittsburgh outfield that already boasts Andrew McCutchen.
"He's not afraid to work," Treanor said. "If you watch in BP, he's in the outfield taking balls 'live,' trying to get better jumps and better reads.
"This guy has a chance to be special, and there aren't a lot of guys who have a chance to be special. Whether he reaches that potential remains to be seen. But he has a chance to be special, and I'm excited for him."
While many Pirate fans may wonder why he hasn't been promoted already, Marte said that isn't his primary concern.
"I don't have any control on whether I get called up or not," Marte said. "I don't know [when I'll get called up] and I don't focus on it because I don't control it.
"I focus on working hard every day so that when that moment arrives, I'll be ready for it."
Frandsen on fire: Lehigh Valley's Kevin Frandsen struggled at the plate in April, batting .197 in 20 games. But when the weather warmed up, so did his bat. He hit .308 in May, .339 in June and begins this week with a .329 average in July. As a result, Frandsen ranks eighth in the IL with a .300 mark and leads the league with 112 hits and 34 doubles.
Beckham bouncing back: Durham SS Tim Beckham got off to a rocky start this season. He hit .204 in his first 13 games, was injured in mid-April, then suspended for 50 games in early May for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. But when Beckham came back to Durham on June 23, he batted .343 in his first eight games. The top overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Beckham is hitting .230 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 35 games with the Bulls.
He said it: "I think it's so important in this game to realize that every single day is another battle and the other team will have incentive to beat you. They may have had revenge on their minds, I don't know, but I do know that they're a good team. Whatever motivation they used, it worked." -- Bats manager David Bell to the Louisville Courier-Journal. His team, which had swept a four-game series in Pawtucket last month, lost the opener of a four-game set against the Red Sox, 9-1, on July 20. Louisville's 38-64 record is the worst in the IL.
He said it, part II: "The numbers don't lie." -- Red Sox IF Andy LaRoche to the Providence Journal on July 14. LaRoche was forced to pitch in the 13th inning against Buffalo, and a walk-off homer by Nate Spears made him the winning pitcher -- and gave him a 2-0 career record as a pitcher. How well did LaRoche pitch? "[He was] filthy, dude," C Ryan Lavarnway told the Journal. "He had some natural run on his fastball and his changeup was good. The pitchers were joking around, asking him to teach them a changeup."