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Marte ready to show best version of himself

@adamdberry
March 15, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Late last season, the Pirates offered Starling Marte a compliment that also served as a challenge. Manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington encouraged Marte during his exit interview to understand and embrace the fact that, when he played well, the Pirates generally played well. As

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Late last season, the Pirates offered Starling Marte a compliment that also served as a challenge.

Manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington encouraged Marte during his exit interview to understand and embrace the fact that, when he played well, the Pirates generally played well. As Marte went, so went the team. So Pittsburgh needs Marte to be at his best as often as possible.

“With Starling, it was very clear: You can be and should be the best player on the field -- and we’re talking our team and the other team -- most times that we play a baseball game, and we don’t always see that,” team president Frank Coonelly said in a KDKA-FM interview earlier this month. “We need to see that virtually every game that you play.”

Marte believes the Pirates will see it more often this season.

“I believe it. I believe that’s the player I am,” Marte said through interpreter Hector Morales. “Obviously I want and need the support of everybody, so I can show up and do what I need to do for the team and continue to push myself to be the best out there every day.”

There is no denying Marte’s talent or production. He ranks ninth among all Major League outfielders in Wins Above Replacement since 2013, according to FanGraphs. He is the most athletic player on the Pirates’ roster. He showed his power and speed last season by hitting 20 homers, stealing 33 bases and playing strong defense in center field.

Over the past two days at LECOM Park, Marte has shown some of what he can do to impact a game. He has homered twice, doubled, walked, stolen a base and hustled down the first-base line to make routine grounders into close plays.

There have been bouts with inconsistency and lapses of focus, however. As good as Marte was overall last year, he struggled through June (.568 OPS) and August (.652 OPS). In August, he was benched for not running out a grounder. But the Pirates are encouraged by what they’re seeing from Marte this spring -- and not just the towering home run he hit into a parking lot on Friday night.

“He’s shown that real intention in Spring Training. He’s shown a commitment to all the little details,” Hurdle said. “He’s become very involved in his development, sharing his thoughts on where he is and what he’d like to do. Some of it’s goal-oriented. Some of it’s team-oriented, individually as well. He’s maturing. … Our hope is that this is the year for Starling to take that next step.”

When Marte sat down for his entrance interview last month, Huntington said, he “articulated how important he is to our success” while acknowledging his role as a leader. Marte said he feels some responsibility as a veteran on a roster full of younger players. It’s a natural next step for the 30-year-old Marte, entering his eighth season in the Majors and his second as the everyday center fielder.

“He’s out to be the best player he can be for himself, for his teammates and for the organization,” Hurdle said. “Those were his comments.”

In other words: Challenge accepted.

“It feels great for me to know that I can be that impactful player for the organization,” Marte added. “My primary focus is to do that, to come here and work hard every day. I’m going to continue to demand and help the incoming players, as a veteran on the team, to continue to get better and challenge them as well.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.