by Steve Mancuso

Meet Noelvi Marte

Noelvi Marte was the headline return in the Luis Castillo trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Marte was a consensus top-20 prospect heading into the 2022 season and, if anything, has improved on that standing. He’s now ranked either the #1 or #2 prospect in the Reds system.

Scouts describe Marte, a shortstop, as an explosive athlete, muscular and strong with broad shoulders. He’s been lauded for determination and hard work. A few basics: Marte bats and throws right-handed and he didn’t hit the injury list while in the Mariners organization.

Oh, he won’t turn 21 until October.

Let’s look at what the Reds have in Marte.

Background

At the age of 16, Noelvi (no-ELL-vee) Marte was signed by the Seattle Mariners out of the Dominican Republic as an international free agent. As one of the top Latin players in 2018, Marte earned a signing bonus of $1.55 million.

The following summer, the Mariners had Marte play on their Dominican Summer League team where he was among league leaders in several batting categories. The 17-year-old Marte hit .309/.371/.512 in 2019. That’s a wRC+ of 138, or 38 percent better than league average.

In 2020, Marte had earned a non-roster invitation to the Mariners big league spring training camp when COVID hit. Seattle selected Marte as one of the 60 players for its alternate site in Tacoma. At 18, Marte practiced with major league players and faced big league pitchers in scrimmages.

“It made me more prepared seeing those guys,” Marte said. “And it made me more physically and mentally prepared for (2021).”

In 2021, the Seattle front office assigned Marte to its low-A affiliate the Modesto Nuts. At 19, Marte was nearly four years younger than the average position player in that league. Over 478 plate appearances he hit .271/.368/.463 with 17 home runs. That was 19% better than league average despite his age. In the final week of the season, the Mariners promoted Marte to the high-A Everett AquaSox.

This Season

Heading into 2022, Noelvi Marte was a consensus top-20 prospect: Baseball America (#18), MLB Pipeline (#11), Baseball Prospectus (#15), FanGraphs (#15), Keith Law at the Athletic (#11).

The Mariners assigned Marte to high-A Everett. The young shortstop, still 2.5 years younger than the average player in his league, started fast then slumped for a few weeks before kicking it into high gear for more than a month.

In his final 28 games for the AquaSox Marte hit .373/.450/.682. That’s a wRC+ of 209. His walk-rate (11.6%) was high and close to his strikeout rate (14.7%) which was low. Marte hit nine home runs in 129 plate appearances and that isolated power (ISO) was an amazing .291. Only six major league players have an ISO above that level in 2022.

Here’s what Marte’s manager had to say about his shortstop’s adjustments and plate approach.

“He’s been able to make some adjustments and fortify his approach and it’s starting to pay off,” said Everett manager Eric Farris. “He’s been very intentional with his preparation and it’s coming to fruition. He’s getting his walks, he’s being more patient and he’s just been able to string good at-bats together. We try to tell the guys to concentrate on the process and swing at the right pitches. He’s starting to get on the good side of things with his at-bats and he’s getting the results he’s looking for.”

Given the number of graduations each season, there’s a good chance Marte will find himself a consensus top ten prospect in the pre-2023 lists.

Marte’s Body Size and Why It Matters

We haven’t mentioned yet how tall Noelvi Marte is or how much he weighs. Those are interesting and, in Marte’s case, important facts.

When the Mariners signed Marte four years ago, his height was reported as 6’1″ and weight at 181 lbs. At the time, those numbers may have been generous for the wiry 16-year-old.

Funny thing is, official player measurements tend to stay the same even as the player doesn’t.

On every subsequent roster where Noelvi Marte has appeared, he’s listed at 6’1″ and 181. Check out the Dayton Dragons roster, where Marte is currently assigned: 6’1″ and 181. Is it possible this young man’s physique hasn’t changed since he was 16 four years ago?

If it’s one thing scouts and analysts agree on with Marte is that he’s “filled out” since his rookie year. In fact, it’s a central issue in reports. Some say the young Dominican might now be 6’3″ having added “30 pounds of muscle” since his signing in the summer of 2018. A friend of mine who works for the Dragons says Marte is “definitely taller than 6’1”.

A few months ago, Marte acknowledged through an interpreter that he’s now 6’3″, weighs more than 200 and is still growing.

Why do Noelvi Marte’s dimensions matter?

Because they impact his chance of staying at shortstop. Eric Longenhagen, who covers prospects for FanGraphs wrote “if Marte can find a way to stay at short, he’s a potential superstar.” Keith Law of the Athletic agrees: “If he (Marte) stays at short, he could be a top-five player in baseball with this combination of approach, power and speed.”

That’s not to say Marte wouldn’t be an impact player if he moved to third base. His hands and arm translate well to third. But Marte’s offensive skills stand out more among fellow shortstops.

Law does believe the “big-bodied” Marte “is going to outgrow shortstop.” On the other hand, Longenhangen says Marte’s body type “does contribute to the possibility that he’ll move to third base, but I am not ready to call it a probability.” Most analysts agree with Law’s assessment.

By many accounts, Marte has lost a step of speed as his body has grown, although he’s stolen eight bases in nine attempts this season.

Regarding Marte’s body type, density is not destiny. As a 20-year-old prime athlete, Marte has the time and ability to alter his body shape if he decides to do so.

Hitting Style

As evident from his statistics, Noelvi Marte is a well above average hitter, with a strong hit tool, ample power and good speed. He’s had several high velocity hits above 110 mph.

Marte bats with an open stance and a leg kick to the third base side. That pull-heavy stride has produced a pull-rate above 50%. The major league average is 40.5%. Only two big leaguers have a pull rate as high as Marte’s.

You get a good sense of his stride, including stepping in the bucket a couple times, here:

Marte is said to be working on his “bucket stride” and it doesn’t seem as pronounced in this swing from a month ago that produced a home run to left-center. (Also, watch the video as Marte rounds third and heads home. That’s not 6’1″, 181. That’s a full-grown man.)

Even with his pull-stride, Marte is said to cover the outer half of the plate well, producing power to all fields. He’s been compared to Manny Machado (another shortstop-turned 3B with an extreme open stance) in that regard. Here’s an example of Marte’s opposite field power.

Another strength in his approach is good zone discipline. Marte’s 30% chase rate is slightly better than MLB average. He’s been praised for the ability to adjust quickly from pitch to pitch, whether it’s high speed fastballs or breaking pitches.

Marte’s Defense

Marte came up as a shortstop and continued to play there through his minor league career. Scouts note his good lateral mobility, arm strength and capability of making flashy plays. Marte made a play for Dayton last night from deep short where a strong throw to first seemed effortless.

Marte has been error-prone, however. He committed 30 errors in 63 games in the DSL and 30 errors in his 2021 season with Modesto. In 2022 with the AquaSox, he committed 24 errors through July. Most of Marte’s errors are from throwing short, when he doesn’t have time to get his feet set. In his Dayton debut yesterday, Marte booted an easy double play ball that cost the Dragons two runs.

Future with the Reds

Marte played shortstop and hit cleanup for the high-A Dragons in his Reds affiliate debut last night. He may stick with Dayton the rest of the season and there’s no reason not to keep him at short as long as he’s there. The rate at which Noelvi Marte can advance through the Reds system is somewhat complicated by other shortstops in the organization.

The Reds promoted fellow SS Elly De La Cruz to AA-Chattanooga just two weeks ago. Matt McClain, the Reds #1 pick in 2021, is another top Reds prospect who had been playing shortstop for Chattanooga. He’s moved to second base since De La Cruz’s arrival. With Jose Barrero’s promotion from Louisville to the Reds today, someone may move from AA to AAA. Barrero is penciled in at short for the Reds tonight.

One reasonable expectation for 2023 would be for the Reds to give Barrero most of the big league playing time at short to see what they have while Marte and De La Cruz play at the AA and AAA levels.

The Reds will have to add Marte to the 40-man roster this offseason.

Whether Marte ends up at shortstop, third base or elsewhere in the big leagues, he appears to have a good chance of providing a strong, middle-of-the-order bat to the Reds lineup.

Manny Machado, Eugenio Suarez, Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez are all players who began as shortstops and experienced success at third base. Another comparison to Noelvi Marte that I’ve seen is someone who shares his last name — Ketel Marte, infielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When can we expect Noelvi Marte to have an impact for the Reds?

Reds superstars like Barry Larkin, Eric Davis and Joey Votto had breakthrough seasons at age 24. Larkin and Davis debuted at 22, but needed a couple years to become impact players. Twenty-four was Jonathan India’s age during his Rookie of the Year season. Jay Bruce beat that pace by a year. Vlad Guererro Jr. was a star at age 22. White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson debuted at 23 and starred at 26.

If Noelvi Marte follows a similar path as Larkin, Davis and Anderson, he would debut in in 2024 and start to have a big impact for the Reds in 2026. Or maybe, like Manny Machado, he’ll kick the door down sooner.

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

4 Comments

  • kmartin

    Law believes that “big-bodied” Marte “is going to outgrow shortstop.” Marte can grow a lot and not be as big as Oneil Cruz who makes some incredible plays.

  • Thomas Clifford

    I watched the Dragons on MiLBtv last night. Really looking forward to watching this kid mature into a big leaguer.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Me, too. He seems to have High-A figured out. Wonder how long until they promote Elly De La Cruz to AAA and Marte to AA.