BRADENTON — He reads the story and hears the talk.
Starling Marte knows what is expected of him and what others think of him.
And when he steps on the field, all of it melts away. The Bradenton Marauders outfielder reports to his spot in center and lets his natural talent take over, focusing on nothing but the game.
When Marte is on, the game tends to focus on him.
The 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has already impressed the right people, such as Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and the organization’s director of player development, Kyle Stark. He’s also making the most of his first season with the high Single-A Marauders, displaying a well-rounded game emblematic of the team’s diverse approach.
“I don’t worry about that — I just walk out there, and every time I walk between those two lines, I forget about everything,” Marte said Monday evening through his translator, Milver Reyes. “I just go out there and play as hard as I can, and I don’t think too much about that stuff, because I’m not there yet.”
Marte’s travels to American shores began in January 2007, when he was signed for $85,000 as an international free agent. After playing two seasons with Pirates’ summer league in the Dominican, Marte took his game to the United States last season.
Things went well.
Marte hit .312 in 54 games with the Pirates’ low-A affiliate in West Virginia, swiping 24 bases in 31 attempts and posting a .377 on-base percentage.
He’s got power. He’s got speed. And then there’s the arm, ranked tops in the organization by Baseball America. Marte showed it prior to Monday’s game against Jupiter — during fielding practice, he charged a shallow fly and threw a line drive to catcher Eric Fryer, who gloved it toward the third-base side of home.
There was no runner, of course. But if there were, he wouldn’t have made it.
“Defensively, he’s an accomplished outfielder right now,” Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during spring training. “There’s a lot to like.”
All of this praise is wonderful news to the 6-foot-2 Marte. But he knows he still has to produce on the field.
“I read and see everyone talking,” Marte said. “But I just want to get out there and play.”
He is. And he’s playing well. Marte entered Monday’s game against Jupiter batting .375 in nine games, with a 1.000 OPS, five RBIs and four stolen bases.
Pittsburgh’s brass is cautiously optimistic about Marte, ranked the Pirates’ sixth-best prospect by Baseball America, with Hungtington telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “. . . it’s a little early to be calling him THE next guy.”
But the tools are there. Everyone knows it, including Marte.
“I love being with a team like Pittsburgh — first off, they gave me a chance,” he said. “Every year, I’m just going to continue to play hard.”