BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) – Starling Marte, the guy displacing Andrew McCutchen in center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, hasn’t played the position regularly since the minor leagues.
Since making his big league debut in 2012, Marte has made all but 42 of his 544 starts in left. An NL Gold Glove winner the past two years, Marte is being shifted by manager Clint Hurdle.
“I have a lot of experience playing center field,” Marte said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “When they moved me to left field when I came up, I was fine with that decision and gave the best that I could. Now that the opportunity is being given, I’m really excited to go back to my original position.”
Marte led the NL with 17 outfield assists last season, the Pirates’ most since Dave Parker’s 26 in 1977. Left field at PNC Park in Pittsburgh is vast, but Marte patrolled it well with the speed and ball recognition.
“I know there are some adjustments to make now, but something that comes naturally to me is getting a good eye on the ball,” Marte said. “I can read the ball and get a good jump.”
McCutchen has moved to right, the first time in his professional career McCutchen has played anywhere but center. Gregory Polanco will go to left field.
The new alignment signals a shift in leadership away from McCutchen.
“Marte is the center fielder, so he’s going to have to take that job,” McCutchen said. “He’s going to have to be that guy who leads. He’s going to have to step up. I’m sure he knows and understands that. I’m sure he’ll do that.”
Marte hit .311 last season and was third in the majors with 47 stolen bases. Yet, he hit only nine home runs after a career-best 19 in 2015.
“I think there is more power there,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Last year was an outlier more than anything else. Some added power would help, some more slug. He’s continued to grow and educate himself as a hitter, so I think the ability to drive the ball, the gap power will eventually just turn into more power to drive the ball out of the ballpark.”
Marte was most frequently used in the cleanup spot last year, although he also batted fifth, second and sixth. Hurdle has not yet announced where Marte will settle in the order this season.
“Even if they put me in ninth, I’m going to give my best,” Marte said with a laugh. “Everyone knows what caliber of player I am and what I have to offer. Home runs will come when it’s the right time for them to come. Right now, my focus is on playing the game right, getting on base, stealing bases, keep getting those hits.”
Former All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan has returned to the organization as a coach. A two-time All-Star for the Pirates in 2011 and 2012, Hanrahan will serve as an assistant pitching coach for Class A Morgantown in the New York-Penn League. … 1B Josh Bell is ahead of schedule in his return from knee surgery. Bell is cleared to do everything but full-speed running. … C Francisco Cervelli, can participate in some baseball activities after experiencing discomfort in a foot.