SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There’s very little doubt Arizona’s Ketel Marte will be a good baseball player this season. He can hit for average, steal bases, smash homers and play multiple defensive positions at a high level.
But if the Diamondbacks want to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season, they probably don’t just need the good version of Marte.
They need the great one.
The 27-year-old has already proven that’s possible. He had a breakout season in 2019, making the NL All-Star team and finishing fourth in the MVP voting after batting .329 with 32 homers, 36 doubles and 92 RBIs while playing above-average defense at second base and center field.
Early in D-backs spring camp this week, the switch-hitter flashed a few sweet left-handed swings during batting practice, launching the ball over the right-field wall.
“It’s impressive,” infielder Asdrubal Cabrera said. “He’s got the talent to be a superstar.”
That’s exactly why Marte’s 2020 season was so disappointing, even if he was still fairly productive. He hit .287 and provided his usual good defense, but his walk rate and power plummeted. He finished with just seven walks and two homers in 195 plate appearances.
Marte said things simply didn’t go as planned in the pandemic-shortened season.
“Last year was a little difficult for me since it was a 60-game schedule,” Marte said. “I tried to make adjustments that didn’t work out. I had a small (hand) injury that affected me, but that injury is fully healed now. I’m ready to go for 2021.”
Marte’s regression mirrored a tough season for the Diamondbacks, who finished last in the NL West with a 25-35 record. Despite the bad year, Arizona didn’t make many moves in the offseason, bringing back most of the roster in an effort to prove that 2020 was a fluke.
A healthy and hard-hitting Marte in the middle of the lineup would go a long way toward making that happen. Arizona GM Mike Hazen said he has every reason to believe the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder will bounce back.
“He looks great,” Hazen said. “He’s an elite athlete, he’s young, he’s smart, he’s a good hitter.”
Now Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo are spending the first few weeks in camp figuring out where they want to use Marte in the field this season. He played mostly center during his breakout 2019 season but played a lot of second base in 2020.
The team has several options for Marte because they’ve got multiple players who play multiple positions. Eduardo Escobar can be used at both second and third while the newly acquired Cabrera plays third, second and first.
Speedster Tim Locastro is an option for more time in center and can play all three outfield spots. Prospects like Andy Young and Josh Rojas can also move around the diamond at multiple spots.
Marte said he looks forward to having a conversation with Lovullo about what his defensive plans are for this season. He enjoys playing multiple positions, though he said he’d eventually like to find a home at one of them.
“I’d like someday to play one position and possibly win a Gold Glove, but I’ll keep doing what the club is asking me to do just to win games and be in the lineup every day,” Marte said.
Hazen and Lovullo praised Marte’s unselfishness and said figuring out his role is a good problem to have.
“Some days I feel like he’s a Gold Glove center fielder or a Gold Glove second baseman,” Lovullo said. “But I think his versatility is going to enable us to have the most competitive lineup on the field each night that’s going to allow us to score the most runs.”
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