Andy Marte, a third baseman whose minor league experience is nearly maxed out, as 2005's top hitting prospect. (See article about 2005's top hitting and prospects.) He also included a disclaimer that Joe Mauer would have gotten the nod except that, despite his injuries last year, he's counting 2004 as Mauer's last year of eligibility. I quote Sickels:John Sickels, whose "Down on the Farm" column is being discontinued by ESPN, has named the Braves'
There's no real consensus right now about the best hitting prospect in baseball. My pick, Marte, will probably surprise some people. But I really like his youth, power potential and improvement at each level.The numbers provide little room for disagreement: Marte's OPS has improved from .831 and .841 in his first two full seasons in 2002 (A Macon) and 2003 (AA Greenville) to .889 in 2004 (AAA Richmond, or .910 OPS including three rehab games with the Gulf Coast League Braves). His patience has also improved, as steady increases in his walk percentage show: .076, .124, and .129 from 2002 to 2004. (The walk percentage is a simple derivation: walks divided by plate appearances.) To put that into perspective, most "patient" hitters have a walk percentage of ~.150 or better; a full season (roughly 700 plate appearances) with a .129 walk percentage would yield about 90 walks. Unfortunately, there is no room in Atlanta for Marte with Chipper Jones playing third base, and I don't think anyone wants to move Chipper back to the outfield just for Marte. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Marte and Chipper in the same lineup a couple times this year, especially in games involving the DH, but perhaps also as a result of one or more Braves outfielders not panning out as we had hoped. My prediction: Marte will start 2005 playing as the everyday third baseman in Richmond, and he'll probably light up AAA pitching for several weeks before Bobby Cox just can't stand having him in the minors any more. As soon as there's room for Marte to play consistently at the major league level, I think Cox will make room for him.