Take a good, long look at Andy Marte. The next time you see him might be on TBS playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Marte, one of the top young prospects in the minor leagues, is proving he's as good as advertised in just three games on the Triple-A level. The Richmond Braves third baseman went 3 for 4 Saturday with a home run and two RBIs as the Braves pounded the Buffalo Bisons, 6-1, in front of 6,505 in Dunn Tire Park.
For the series, which concludes at 2:05 this afternoon (Radio 1230 AM, 1330 AM), Marte is 6 for 11 with three homers. His solo shot over the center field fence off reliever Andrew Brown in the sixth inning gave the Braves a 3-0 lead. Richmond broke open the game in the eighth with three runs on a bases-loaded double to left by Carlos Mendez.
"With Marte, we've flirted with a little bit of everything so far, and it didn't really matter," said Bisons manager Marty Brown. "He's pretty much been the real deal against us. He's hit the ball out everywhere you can hit them out here."
Considered the best third base prospect in the minors, Marte is rated Atlanta's second-best player by Baseball America and also ranks ninth among the publication's top 100 prospects. Most scouting services rank Marte behind Double-A outfielder Jeff Francoeur among the Braves' prospects, but Baseball Prospectus rates Marte the minors' best overall prospect.
"That guy is one of the better hitters I've ever played with, college, pro, whatever," said Braves designated hitter James Jurries, who went 3 for 4 with a homer and an RBI. "He can flat-out swing. It seems any pitch you throw him he knows what to do with."
But what position will he play?
Former National League MVP Chipper Jones is back at third base after spending nearly 2 1/2 years in the outfield to make room for Marte. But last June, a hamstring injury forced Jones to shift back to third. He's signed through 2006 and has performance clauses in his deal that could activate team options for 2007 and 2008.
"They'll figure it out when (Marte) gets there," said Richmond manager Pat Kelly. "Obviously, Chipper is our third baseman so I don't know what adjustments will be made, but (Marte's) bat speaks for itself, so I'm sure they'll find a place for him."
That could be in the outfield, but an experiment with Marte in left field this winter came with mixed results. Third base is Marte's natural position, and he displayed some of his defensive prowess in the eighth inning Saturday. Speedy Brandon Phillips hit a slow roller toward third, but Marte whistled a strike to first to get Phillips and end the inning.
"I like playing third base, and I never really played the outfield before," Marte said. "They told me to try and catch some fly balls and stuff, but I really felt uncomfortable. But I have to try and do whatever they say."
While Marte and Jurries led a nine-hit assault for the Braves, the Bisons' bats were silent thanks to starter Seth Greisinger (1-0). He held off the Bisons with a nasty change-up and allowed just three hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Bisons had runners in scoring position only three times and left just three men on base.
Greisinger, the former University of Virginia All-American, missed nearly three seasons from 1999 to 2001 with an elbow injury and was recently acquired by the Braves in a trade with Washington.
"He threw the ball good," said Bisons second baseman Joe Inglett, who doubled home the team's only run in the eighth. "They had some key plays where they made some great plays on some balls hit. But you have to tip your cap to him. He threw the ball really well. You can't say anymore than that."
The Bisons got their lone run with two outs in the eighth. Jake Gautreau walked, then Inglett doubled to left-center to score Gautreau. Buffalo was coming off a doubleheader in which it combined for nine runs and 13 hits in a split with the Braves on Friday night.
"You just have to move on to the next day. We have 144 of these," Inglett said. "Tomorrow we'll go get 'em."