KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The four games at Kauffman Stadium that closed the Mariners’ pre-break schedule highlighted Ketel Marte’s potential as a impact shortstop and the growth yet required to realize it.
In Thursday’s series opener, Marte made a spectacular running catch on a looping two-out flare with a runner on third. The play underscored his speed and sheer athleticism.
Two days later, Marte inexplicably broke for second base, and then stopped, when the Mariners had a first-and-third threat with one out in a tie game. Inexplicable, that is, until Marte explained he had the count wrong.
On Sunday, the roller-coaster surged upward again when Marte went deep into the hole to backhand a third-inning grounder and throw out Alcides Escobar at first base. He also bunted for an RBI single with two outs in the fourth.
“I’m going to progress,” Marte said. “I work hard every day. I know what I can do. I know I have the talent. We all have highs and lows. So you keep working.”
Marte’s 13 errors at the All-Star break are tied for the most among American League shortstops — tied with Tampa Bay’s Brad Miller, the one-time Mariner whom Marte supplanted.
“What you’re watching is a 22-year-old develop at the big-league level,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s got good range. He’s got plenty of arm. I think he’s cleaned up some things from spring training.”
The Mariners turned away from Miller because they saw him as a defensive liability. That view is supported, at least somewhat, by Miller’s current peripherals, which include a minus-15 rating in terms of runs saved above average.
No other AL shortstop is worse than minus-9. Marte is a minus-3 in the formula devised by Baseball Info Solutions.
Unlike their view on Miller, the Mariners see Marte as a 22-year-old on an upward path. His biggest booster remains All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, who doubles as Marte’s primary mentor.
“I’ve been saying this since the first day: He’s pretty special,” Cano said. “He’s a guy who just needed a chance to play every single day. He’s learning. He starting to learn the situations. He’s special. Not only on defense but also offensively.”
Marte reaches the All-Star break with a .272 average in 72 games with .298 on-base percentage and a .355 slugging percentage. It’s closing in on a year since his July 31, 2015 promotion, and his career slash is .277/.321/.376 in 129 games.
Defensive metrics generally show him to be major-league average.
“Is there plenty of work to be done?” Servais asked. “Yes. Is he a guy you feel comfortable putting out there? Yes, I do. Every day.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth. We see him more under control and understanding the speed of the runner. How hard the ball is hit. I’m seeing it getting better and better. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t handle the position for a long time.”
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