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Mason Martin: Pirates 2019 Minor League Player Of The Year

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First baseman Mason Martin had one of the most surprising pro debuts in 2017. The 17th-round pick out of high school in Kennewick, Wash., led the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with 11 home runs. He also paced the league in on-base percentage (.457) and slugging (.630).

It wasn’t the same story in 2018. Martin earned an aggressive push to low Class A but was demoted after struggling with a .636 OPS and too many strikeouts.

"It made me realize it's not going to be the GCL from here on out,” Martin said.

The 20-year-old lefthanded hitter has gotten back on track this year, launching 34 home runs through 125 games at low Class A Greensboro and high Class A Bradenton. He had hit more homers than any player without time at Triple-A, where the livelier ball had inflated power output.

Martin attributes his increased power to several changes this year. He got in better shape, he stayed on his back leg more often, he has a slightly shorter swing, and he learned how to gameplan against opposing pitchers. The biggest focus has been trying to find a balance between hitting for both power and average.

Most of Martin’s value this year has come from a high walk rate (13 percent) and a lot of power (.307 isolated slugging). He had hit just .254 thanks in part to a 31 percent strikeout rate, which was improved from last season.

Still, Martin knows he has to make more progress to reach the majors.

"I've really worked hard on my two-strike approach this year,” Martin said. "And the strikeouts are too high for me. I'm definitely not satisfied with that number.”

The biggest thing that can help Martin is working on his pitch selection. He’s got a great eye but can be too selective, laying off hittable pitches earlier in the count. Improving on that could help his two-strike approach by cutting down on the number of two-strike counts he finds himself in.

Martin will have the 2020 season in Double-A Altoona to work on that adjustment as he follows up on this strong season.

BURIED TREASURE

— Righthander James Marvel was the top pitching performer in the organization, putting up a 2.97 ERA in 151.1 innings between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. The 25-year-old is a heavy sinkerball pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls and could be a middle reliever or a depth starter in the majors. Marvel could have a shot to reach Pittsburgh in September, but if he doesn’t get the call, expect him to compete for a spot next spring.

— Righthander Cody Bolton soared up the prospect ranks this year. He recorded a 3.28 ERA through 101.2 innings between high Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, with 102 strikeouts and 30 walks, thanks to increased velocity and an improved slider. Bolton will be the top pitching prospect in the system once Mitch Keller loses his eligibility, which should happen this season.

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