The situation was a bit daunting for Andy Marte. He was a twenty-one-year old third baseman in Triple-A, stuck behind one of the best players his organization has ever had.
But then things changed.
When Chipper Jones went down with a foot injury ten days ago, the choice was easy for General Manager John Schuerholz. Jones was going to be out a while, so with his offense already struggling, the decision to call up the power-hitting Marte was easy.
And now, a player seemingly stuck in the minors has been pushed to the forefront for a team trying to make it to the playoffs once again.
"It's a good experience," Marte says. "It's the best thing that can happen in my life for me, for my family, and for everybody close to me. It's great. Now I'm here, ready to go."
Marte was hitting .276 (55 for 199) with 15 doubles, nine home runs, and 35 RBI in his 54 games for the Richmond team. He started off very well, then struggled, and has been a typical 21-year-old in AAA for the most part. Is he 100% ready for the big leagues? Maybe not, but when his phone rang last Monday morning, his big league team needed him to bring his potent bat to the big leagues.
"Pat Kelly (Richmond manager) called me on my cell phone," Marte says. "I couldn't believe it. That's baseball."
For the last several months many in the BravesNation have wondered what would become of Marte. Chipper Jones has been happy back at third base this season, and by all indications wants no part of the outfield. His current foot injuries only add to the belief that the outfield will not be his position of the future.
So it has been assumed that the Braves would simply do what the Florida Marlins did two years ago when they had a hotshot young third baseman that was blocked by a solid veteran. Miguel Cabrera had never played the outfield before, but the Marlins needed his bat in their lineup. So with Mike Lowell entrenched at third base, Cabrera went to the outfield – and is still there today.
The Braves believed that should be an option, so this past winter they put Marte in the outfield to see what he could do.
"It was like for a month in winter ball in the Dominican," Marte says. "They started hitting some fly balls to me. It's ok. I did it good. It's kind of boring. But if I have to play somewhere, I'll do it."
The Braves were a little disappointed in Marte's play in the outfield. But it might have more to do with the fact that he's terrific with the glove at third base. It's not like he's a liability at third; instead he might be a future Gold Glove candidate. So the outfield experiment did not last long.
Marte says, "When I got back here they told me, ‘ok you're going to play third again.' I said, ‘ok, that's better.' The outfield is ok. It's just kind of boring. I have to get used to it. I play pretty good defense at third base. I feel very good defensively at third. I'm ready to play third. We'll see what happens. If they need me somewhere (besides third base), I'll do it."
But for now, all Marte has to do is play third base – and hit. The Braves offense has been anemic lately, and even though he is still only twenty-one years old, Marte will be counted on to take up the slack felt by Chipper Jones's absence.
"I'm ready," Marte admits. "It's time for me to show what I can do."
The Braves certainly hope that show will be impressive.
Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development. Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is out on the bookshelves now. Bill can be reached at email@example.com
Marte ready for the challenge
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