This series is typically based on the premise of a player performance “correcting” positively or negatively. In this case, however, we’re hoping the correction is actually more of the same. Which is not really a correction at all, I realize, but whatever. This is my space to write! Stop judging me! Ketel Marte showed us some very intriguing developments last year, and he’s officially got sleeper appeal.
Marte has had fantasy owners, particularly in dynasty leagues, salivating for years. As far back as 2015, he hit .314 and stole 20 bases over 65 games with the Mariners Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. I’ve been sucked in by many middle infielders coming up through the Mariners system, in part because their Triple-A numbers always look so good because they’re PCL-inflated. I somehow missed the hype train on Marte, though, so I wasn’t too snake-bitten when he hit just .259 with one lone homer and 11 steals over 119 games with the Mariners in 2016. Nor did I care too much when he was traded along with Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Zac Curtis that offseason. I cared even less about him in the 2017 preseason because I was all in on a Chris Owings breakout (curse you, broken finger!), with some interest in Brandon Drury, as well. No, it wasn’t until the second half of 2017 that Ketel One, as I like to call him, began to really pique my interest. Ketel One is a vodka, you see. It’s an odd name for a person. Anyway…
A huge flaw in Marte’s game has always been a complete lack of power. I mentioned the single homer in his 2016 stint with the Mariners. He had only 17 home runs over 523 career minor league games — 2,088 at-bats. He didn’t have great defense at the six, so a hollow batting average with some speed wasn’t likely to carry him to a long major league career. So when the Diamondbacks got their grubby mitts on him, they got right to work. They changed his swing to help him drive the ball with more authority. They also wanted him to get more loft on the ball, to increase his launch angle. Well, I’d say whatever they did worked. Look at these improvements from 2016 to 2017.
You can see a definite change in his launch angle, increasing his fly ball rate by 8%. He also went from a total slap hitter to a player who can actually provide a little pop from time to time. The second coming of J.D. Martinez he is not, but the 11 homers he hit between Triple-A Reno and the Diamondbacks were by far a career high in a single season. However, it was not only his power that ticked up — look at that plate discipline! Oh, sweet, glorious plate discipline. Granted, it’s only a half season worth of numbers, but I’m tempted to buy into the jump in walk rate with the wholesale changes he’s made elsewhere. He cut down on strikeouts, too. The numbers are so extreme that his 2017 second half BB/K ratio of 0.93 ranked him 10th in all of baseball, just behind Justin Turner and in front of Joe Mauer.
The gains in power and plate discipline didn’t seem to take away anything from his overall contact, which actually improved from 2016. His swinging strike rate got slightly better, as well. He hit .260 last year with a .290 BABIP that should rise quite a bit higher in 2018. He has excellent speed and contact ability, and he rarely pops up. He could easily boost his BABIP/BA to .320/.290. Perhaps even higher.
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This is all without mentioning his stolen base ability, which has been surprisingly lackluster at the MLB level. He’s got the speed, according to Statcast’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard. His 28.9 ft/sec is the same mark posted by Ozzie Albies and Whit Merrifield, and even higher than Tommy Pham and Jerrod Dyson. Marte has the speed to steal 30 bases, but he needs to improve his technique and get more aggressive as well. Still, 15 steals wouldn’t be a surprise at all over a full season.
Marte’s defense has improved, as well, which must continue if he’s to get everyday at-bats for Arizona this year. Nick Ahmed doesn’t provide anything offensively, but if the D’Backs see a massive gain to be had defensively and Marte is cold at the dish, I don’t know that they’d hesitate to make that swap, at least part-time.
Unfortunately for Marte, the Diamondbacks organization has decided to officially install a humidor for the 2018 season at Chase Field. The projections with the change are extreme, calling for anything from a 25-50% reduction in home runs, and a significant decrease in exit velocity as well. With that in mind, it’s hard to project Marte to hit for more than 12-15 home runs. That keeps his overall sleeper appeal a bit capped. Also working against him is a pretty stout top of the order. Pollock, Peralta, and Goldschmidt should be the 1-2-3 for the majority of the season. Marte will likely be stuck at the bottom of the order to begin the season, but if he hits like I think he will, he could force his way upwards as the season rolls along. We have also seen how brittle Pollock can be, so if he ends up missing time, it could be Marte that takes his lineup slot.
Marte is currently the 24th shortstop off the board in Fantrax leagues, with an ADP of 319 overall. With the potential to go 15/15/.290, he makes for a great dart throw in deep leagues. You’re hoping for similar numbers from the likes of Andrelton Simmons and Gleyber Torres, but Marte is going 80-100 picks after them. Particularly in deep OBP leagues, keep Ketel “One” Marte in mind at the end of your draft.
Course Correction Series