For every Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, there’s also a Wladimir Balentien, Carlos Peguero or Jeremy Reed. Not every player to make the MLB Futures Game goes on to make it big in the big leagues.
Tacoma Rainiers shortstop Ketel Marte said he couldn’t sleep after he was told he’d be one of the two players to represent the Seattle Mariners organization in this year’s Futures Game, an exhibition between minor league prospects from the United States and those from the rest of the world, held in conjunction with the MLB All-Star Game.
Marte said playing in the Futures Game was a goal of his since spring training.
Making his major league debut is another.
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“When you play in the Futures Game, everybody thinks you have a chance to play in the major leagues, but you can’t control that,” Marte said. “You have to control what you can control, and that is playing hard and seeing what happens after.”
Rainiers manager Pat Listach said it’s only a matter of time before Marte becomes a major leaguer — maybe even this season. The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic was just a phone call away before fracturing his left thumb sliding into second base on May 31.
“He was probably the next guy up,” Listach said. “They had already seen (Chris) Taylor. It was a matter of a phone call, and then he gets hurt. Just bad luck.
“But he’s going to play in the major leagues, without a doubt.”
Marte said the chatter from teammates and coaches suggested he was days away from becoming a Mariner and turning double plays alongside Cano, Seattle’s All-Star second baseman and a fellow Dominican, before the injury.
Then came the thumb injury, which not only might have delayed a possible promotion to the majors, it also jeopardized Marte’s chances of playing in the Futures Game on July 12 and the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 15. Marte, who started in center field for the Rainiers on Thursday, said one doctor told him it would take him eight weeks to recover.
“I was so sad. I felt like crazy,” Marte said. “I had never been hurt like that.”
Marte rehabbed for five weeks before going 2 for 3 in an Arizona Rookie League game July 8. He played the next two days for Double-A Jackson — going 4 for 7 — before the Futures Game, in which he batted leadoff for the World team and played second base with his thumb wrapped.
Rainiers hitting coach Cory Snyder said he and a few other coaches were intently watching on TV when the switch-hitting Marte, batting right-handed, sent a 2-1 pitch to right field for an RBI single in the third inning.
It was exactly what Marte, who went 2 for 2, had been working on with Snyder.
“That shows maturity,” Snyder said. “It was one ball out and, boom, hit it the other way. It was fast and aggressive, and that’s what I like to see.”
Marte batted .304 in 128 games last season and had a .313 mark this season for the Rainiers going into Thursday’s game. That’s similar to what the Mariners’ Taylor and Brad Miller — who played in the 2013 Futures Game — did against Triple-A pitching. Taylor has a .313 average in 123 career Triple-A games, and Miller batted .356 in 26 Triple-A games.
That success hasn’t transferred to Seattle, where Taylor has a .248 average in 79 games (.179 in 32 games this year) and Miller has hit .239 in 289 games.
Much of that difference is because minor league pitchers don’t have the game plan to attack specific hitters like major league pitchers do, so Snyder said Marte must continue to refine his approach and preparation to succeed in the majors.
“I’m a big believer in having an aggressive approach, and I think he has bought into that and ‘This is my job, this is what I do and I’m going to focus on fastballs in the middle of the plate,’” Snyder said of Marte. “I believe he is getting really, really close to the major leagues.
“Our job is to prepare him. Not just, ‘I want to see how you do in Triple-A.’ No, I want to prepare you for your approach, your mental game and how you handle everything in the big leagues, because it’s such a bigger stage.”
Marte credited a lot of his success this season to his daily work in the batting cages with veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who has since been recalled to Seattle.
Defensively, Marte is still a work in progress. Listach said Marte’s predominately worked on his arm slot to improve his throwing accuracy.
On the basepaths, though Marte is not a burner, Listach said he has special base-running instincts.
Speed is a commodity the Mariners could use. Austin Jackson leads the Mariners with 11 stolen bases. Marte had 17 steals in 51 games before suffering the injury.
“That’s something you can’t teach,” Listach said. “He knows when to steal bases. Not so much with his speed, but he picks the right pitches, and he picks the right count. It’s odd to see a guy that young with those kind of instincts.
“And the guy is 21 years old hitting in Triple-A. That should say something in itself. … He’s special.”
All that’s left is a phone call.
“Whenever I get on this field, I try to get better every day,” Marte said, staring at the infield at Cheney Stadium. “I have to keep working hard and be myself and see what happens after.
“I think I’m ready to play in the big leagues. I feel like I can play there.”