Recently promoted AquaSox shortstop Noelvi Marte is one of the top prospects in baseball. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Recently promoted AquaSox shortstop Noelvi Marte is one of the top prospects in baseball. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

M’s believe AquaSox shortstop Marte, 19, is budding superstar

Director of player development Andy McKay: “We believe in the skills (and) we believe in the person.”

The date was Oct. 16, 2001.

The Seattle Mariners, fresh off a record-tying 116-win regular season, had just defeated Cleveland to advance to the American League Championship Series. They were preparing to face the mighty New York Yankees, with a trip to the World Series on the line.

Meanwhile, on that same day more than 3,500 miles away in the Dominican Republic, a future Mariners prospect was born.

His name: Noelvi Marte.

Seattle, of course, hasn’t made it back to the playoffs since that historic 2001 season. The club’s 20-year postseason drought is the longest of any team in the four major North American sports leagues.

But with a dazzling collection of young talent in a farm system that’s ranked No. 1 by Baseball America, the Mariners’ future looks brighter than it has in a long time.

And as success-starved baseball fans across the Pacific Northwest dream about the possibility of a World Series-contending Mariners team a couple years down the road, the highly touted Marte is undoubtedly a key part of those hopes.

“(He’s) a major part of what we’re trying to accomplish in terms of winning in Seattle,” said Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of player development.

This week, local baseball fans have a chance to watch the prized 19-year-old shortstop in Everett.

Marte, one of the top overall prospects in baseball, was promoted to the Everett AquaSox on Sept. 7 and is playing at Funko Field this week as the team closes its regular season with a series against Spokane.

Marte features a tantalizing combination of raw power, hitting prowess and natural athleticism — especially for his young age. He’s ranked as the sport’s No. 10 prospect by Baseball America and the No. 11 prospect by MLB.com.

“He does a lot of things well,” McKay said. “He can hit. He’s shown the ability to hit for power. He can run. He can steal bases. He can defend at a premium spot on the field. And he’s doing it all at a very young age for the level he’s at.

“So you put all those things together — and you start kind of looking at historical comparisons to other players of his age doing what he’s doing — and it becomes pretty exciting quickly.”

Prior to his recent promotion, Marte showcased his skill set this season at the Low-A level with Modesto.

Marte posted a .271 batting average, .368 on-base percentage and .462 slugging percentage in 99 games with the Nuts, while smacking 17 home runs, two triples and 24 doubles. He also displayed impressive speed for a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, swiping 23 stolen bases in 30 attempts.

“Marte is extremely young, but has a chance to be a special player at a premium position,” reads his Baseball America scouting report. “His hands, bat speed and feel for the barrel allow him to make contact against all different pitch types and hit with power to all fields. He projects to be a plus hitter with above-average power in the middle of the order.”

Marte poses for a photo with fan Rowan Rice before Tuesday’s game at Funko Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marte poses for a photo with fan Rowan Rice before Tuesday’s game at Funko Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marte’s time with Modesto included one of the biggest performances of the entire minor league season. In a game last month, he blasted three home runs and finished 4-for-5 with nine RBIs. At the time of his promotion, he was tied for the third-most homers in the eight-team Low-A West.

“(He has) bat speed and ability to hit the ball a long way to the middle of the diamond,” McKay said. “He doesn’t have to rely on pulling the baseball. That’s what we’ve seen from the beginning, and that’s what continues to show up.”

Marte hails from the city of Cotuí in the central part of the Dominican Republic, about 45 miles northwest of the capital city of Santo Domingo. Like many in the baseball-crazed island country, Marte said he grew up in a family that loves the sport.

“My family is always talking about baseball,” Marte said through the translation of AquaSox coach Jose Umbria.

With a strong passion for the game and immense talent, Marte developed into one of the most sought-after teenage baseball prospects on the international market. As a 16-year-old in July of 2018, he signed with the Mariners for $1.55 million. He said he was drawn to the Mariners because of the way they treated him.

“They treated me different than anyone else (did),” he said.

According to Baseball Reference, 825 Dominican-born players have reached the major leagues — which is the most of any country besides the United States. But of that total, just three players have made it from Cotuí. Marte aims to be the fourth.

After he signed with the Mariners, Marte said there was a big celebration awaiting him back home.

“When I got back to my hometown, it was kind of like a party,” he said.

Marte’s professional career got off to a scorching start in 2019, when he earned Dominican Summer League player of the year honors from Baseball America at the young age of 17. He posted an impressive .309/.371/.511 slash line and led the league in total bases, with nine home runs, four triples and 18 doubles in 65 games.

But the 2020 minor league season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, throwing a wrench into the development of prospects everywhere. Instead of making his stateside professional debut, Marte was one of 60 players invited to the Mariners’ summer camp last July at T-Mobile Park, which served as a ramp up to the abbreviated major league season. He then spent the rest of the summer at the club’s alternate training site in Tacoma.

In both settings, the 18-year-old Marte was facing older, more experienced and higher-level pitchers than he would’ve at the Single-A level — where he likely would’ve been playing, if not for the pandemic. And understandably, he struggled.

“It was really tough,” Marte said.

However, Marte said the challenging summer served as an important learning experience for him. And McKay said it showed a lot about Marte’s work ethic, attitude and resolve.

“He was facing major league players, and he never wavered,” McKay said. “He never flinched. It was a very rough summer for him. But to see him just keep coming at it over and over and over again — and showing up with a great attitude, ready to work, ready to compete — it really revealed the type of person he is and the toughness that he possesses.”

Marte stormed out of the gates this year in Modesto, batting .299 with 10 homers, one triple and 10 doubles over the first two months of the season.

“Many, many nights in (that) league, he was the best player on the field — at a very young age,” McKay said.

Marte hit a rough patch in July, batting just .219 with two homers, one triple and three doubles that month. But like he did last summer, Marte handled the adversity like a veteran.

Marte bounced back in a massive way on Aug. 3, launching three home runs into the California evening sky — including a monstrous 432-foot blast that soared off his bat at a 106 mph exit velocity.

That night kickstarted a strong August for Marte, who slashed .287/.412/.553 with five homers and 10 doubles in 23 games that month.

“That’s a big part of what minor league baseball is designed to do — to challenge people to get through a very long season and learn how to … navigate a chunk of time where your confidence isn’t exactly there and you’re not getting the results you want,” McKay said.

“You have to learn how to do that, because over the course of a long season, it’s gonna happen to you multiple times. And obviously, he showed his ability to.”

Marte has made strides defensively at shortstop this season. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marte has made strides defensively at shortstop this season. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

On the defensive side, Marte struggled during his first professional season in 2019. He committed 30 errors in 63 games at shortstop that year, while posting an .894 fielding percentage.

But he’s worked hard to improve that part of his game — and his strides have shown. This season, he’s committed 29 errors in 97 games, while increasing his fielding percentage to .925.

According to Baseball America, scouts are split over whether Marte should ultimately stay at shortstop. Some have suggested he’ll need to move to third base as he continues to grow into his frame.

But Marte said he wants to remain at shortstop. And the Mariners are confident in his ability to play that position at the major league level.

“Like a lot of young shortstops, the error total can kind of pile up on you at times,” McKay said. “And for the most part, I’d say it’s a mental focus thing — keeping guys locked in for every pitch of the game over the course of a long season. He’s certainly showed that he’s got the physical skills to play shortstop. And now, it’s the ability to actually go out and convert all of these plays into outs.

“He has made improvements each year,” McKay added. “And we feel like he’s on a trajectory where, if he keeps making the improvements that he’s making, he’ll be able to stick and continue to play shortstop.”

And again, he’s still just 19.

Given his advanced talent level, sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

“What he’s doing at 19 years old is pretty awesome,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle last month. “… His (two professional) seasons really add up to what appears to be a special talent.”

As Marte continues his climb toward the majors, McKay reiterated the organization’s belief in the ultra-talented youngster.

“(He’s) just a wonderful kid who we believe in,” McKay said. “We believe in the skills (and) we believe in the person.”

And Marte, when asked what it’d mean to reach the big leagues and help Seattle win, reciprocated a similar type of belief in the organization.

“I just try and do my best every single day — trying to always reach my dream and help the team to win the World Series,” Marte said.

“In a couple years,” he added, “we’re gonna do it.”

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