'Locked in': Noelvi wows at Mariners' Minors camp

March 8th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- “It just sounds different.”

The timeworn adage in baseball vernacular describing the echo of ball meeting bat has a particularly frequent presence in prospect circles, describing the players that organizations and fans dream on, those that haven’t quite gone mainstream, guys that many haven’t yet put eyes on.

Yet despite the cliché, it’s hard to ignore that when Noelvi Marte makes contact, it just sounds different.

The Mariners’ No. 2 prospect and baseball’s No. 11 overall per MLB Pipeline, Marte has physically and metaphorically towered over Seattle’s Minor League Spring Training. On any field with the 125-plus players on hand, Marte is perhaps the easiest to spot. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 and pushing past 210 pounds.

He stands well above the rest of the infielders during drills with longtime coaching guru Perry Hill. His BP work regularly draws members of the Mariners’ front office and the Major League coaching staff. During a scrimmage last week, he yanked a belt-high, first-pitch fastball off Padres prospect Daniel Camarena that drew an ovation of awe from his teammates.

And about that sound.

“A grown freaking man,” Mike Cameron, former Mariners All-Star and current special assignment coach, said in passing.

Marte is just 20 years old, making him a man-child in this Minors camp that runs through April 3 and one of the game’s youngest talents of tomorrow. Last year, Marte was among the youngest players in the Low-A West League before he was promoted for the season’s final two weeks to High-A Everett, where he’ll likely begin the 2022 campaign.

In his first pro season in the U.S. last year, the Dominican Republic native slashed .273/.366/.460 (.825 OPS) with 17 homers, including three in one game on Aug. 3. Marte was already on many prospect radars, but that showing underscored the somewhat topsy-turvy development he went through after a minor slump in July. In that three-fer, which included a grand slam and nine RBIs total, Marte homered on a changeup, a belt-high fastball and another pitch well above the strike zone. It was an awakening moment of sorts.

“I think the thing that most helped me that day was staying really focused; locked in,” Marte said through team interpreter Jose Umbria. “Obviously, it was a great experience. From that day on, I learned more like, ‘OK, I have to be consistently trying to be focused on every single at-bat.'”

Therein lies the approach that Marte is taking into 2022. Touted by many in Seattle’s front office for his ability to absorb information, Marte may be more quiet than some of the other strong personalities in the Mariners’ farm system. But he’s praised for his baseball IQ.

During a hitting drill off a machine last week, players were given a count and asked to craft a pitch-by-pitch plan with each. Marte’s was 0-1, and when asked where he was going to look for the ball, he responded, “middle.” Asked after where he was going to hit it, he again said, “middle.” It appeared something was lost in translation, but Marte shook his head, stepped in and crushed the next pitch over the batter’s eye. All middle everything.

“My natural swing is to right-center,” Marte said. “But I’m trying to keep working on it because when I get pull happy, I get in trouble. I’m trying to keep my natural swing. Obviously, I have to learn more. That’s my approach and I’m trying to stick with it.”

Given his size, power profile and his defensive hiccups at shortstop last year (30 errors in 99 games), scouts have suggested that Marte will likely move to third base eventually. But the Mariners are continuing to work him exclusively at short this spring, especially with Hill, the sage of many success stories, on hand to offer insight.

“I feel really comfortable [at shortstop] because it’s the position that obviously I’ve been playing since I was little,” Marte said. “I’m just trying to get better every single day.”

If 2022 is centered on honing his approach, ‘21 was about adjusting to U.S. and Minor League culture. Marte participated in the Mariners’ Summer Camp leading up to the shortened ‘20 season, then he played the rest of the year at the alternate training site. But ‘21 was his first taste of a professional environment in the U.S. Marte says he ditched fast food and more diligently focused on his diet.

“I feel like obviously there was a lot of excitement,” Marte said of last season. “Being in the D.R., I feel like I was kind of prepared. But you have to adjust to the culture, all that, what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

That culture, he says, is largely what swayed him to sign with Seattle for $1.55 million in 2018 despite strongly considering a competitive offer from the Twins.

“First of all, the culture. Second, the way they treat me,” Marte said. “They treat me like I’m family. I’ve always liked the way they treated me. It’s like family. That’s what I liked the most.”

Marte spent the offseason in the D.R. with his family and playing six games in the Dominican Winter League, an experience in which he was alongside many big leaguers in an environment that has been described as incredibly competitive despite its exhibition format.

“The way they play is to win,” Marte said. “That’s something I’m going to bring here.”

Marte is still at least one year away from being on the doorstep of the Majors, but an aggressive leap through the system wouldn’t be shocking. No, games haven’t begun yet this season -- but he’s already making a strong impression.