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Newly disciplined Marte drives in five
Pirates' No. 3 prospect goes deep, sets season high for RBIs
06/29/2012 1:59 AM ET
Starling Marte is batting .299 with 27 RBIs in the month of June.
Starling Marte is batting .299 with 27 RBIs in the month of June. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)
It was just one pitch -- a changeup in fact -- but to Starling Marte, what he did with that changeup basically told the entire story of his 2012 campaign.

The Pirates' No. 3 prospect, who was crowned the Eastern League batting champion with a .332 average last season, owned a lowly line of .256/.313/.432/.744 through the first two months of his first season with Triple-A Indianapolis.

The culprit? An inability to hit offspeed pitches, according to the outfielder.

"I didn't have experience at this level, and the quality of the pitching was better," Marte said through a translator. "They were throwing more breaking balls, so I talked with [teammates Anderson Hernandez and Daniel Cabrera] and they told me I was swinging at too many breaking pitches in the zone. So now, I'm trying to focus on hitting them in the zone."

He did just that Thursday night.

MLB.com's No. 32 prospect swung at a 1-1 changeup in the zone and drove it to left field for a three-run homer in the fourth inning. He drove in two more runs with a double in the sixth to finish with a season-high five RBIs as part of a 2-for-5 performance in Indianapolis' 10-5 win over Toledo.

Those five RBIs give him 27 over 27 games in the month of June, second-most among all Minor Leaguers since the last turn of the calendar. It marked his highest RBI production since he drove in six on April 22, 2011 for Double-A Altoona.

The homer -- Marte's eighth of the season -- was more than just a single recognition of a pitch, however. Two innings earlier, the 23-year-old found himself in a similar spot. Brandon Boggs and Chase d'Arnaud had both walked prior to Marte's at-bat in the second frame. In that turn at the plate, the southpaw Oliver went after the right-handed hitter with changeups in the zone. The result was a groundout to second to end the inning without any damage.

Marte didn't forget that.

"I knew he attacked me with changeups the first time," he said. "So I was in the same position [with two runners on], and I tried to think about what pitches he threw last time, so I was looking changeup. I took a fastball for a strike, and then when I got my pitch, I hit it out for a home run."

That type of pitch and location recognition may be the key to the Dominican Republic native's future progress at the Triple-A level and beyond. On the season, he has only 19 walks compared to 66 strikeouts, but there are signs his discipline is improving. After posting a .274 on-base percentage over 24 games in May, Marte has raised that statistic to .365 through 27 games in June, thanks in part to a four-game stretch in which he is 8-for-17 with one walk. (His OBP mark stands at .333 for the season.)

Marte knows he has to overcome his status as a hitter who flails too much at pitches he can't hit, but also thinks he is beginning to make strides in that department.

"I feel more comfortable here now," he said. "I've been putting in a lot of hard work, especially with my strike-zone discipline and my ability to pick up breaking pitches. I was nervous at the beginning of the year, but I definitely feel more comfortable at the plate."

Thanks to his offensive turnaround as well as his phenomenal defensive play in center field, Marte was recently named as one of six International League outfielders chosen to represent the circuit at the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 11. He is batting .274 with eight homers and 46 RBIs for the Indians on the season.

While some Pirates fans may hope that Marte makes his Major League debut before he can play at the showcase in Buffalo, the outfielder said he's just focused on the one sure thing on that list.

"[The All-Star Game] means a lot to me," he said. "It's nice to know people have noticed what I've been doing here. It's a big accomplishment."

Jeff Clement doubled twice and added an RBI for the Indians on Thursday. Matt Hague went 2-for-5, drove in two and scored once.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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