February 12, 2007

Martinez On The Rise

Michael Saflino writes about Fernando Martinez and how he is developing faster than many have thought:

"Martinez doesn't look or carry himself like a teenager and had no trouble against Double-A and Triple-A pitchers in the AFL," Law wrote recently on ESPN.com. "Plus glove in center as well."
Sickels says Martinez projects right now as a regular, and possibly a star. "There is still enough uncertainty about Martinez to keep him out of that very elite category. I rank Martinez at number 17, so you can see that I do like him a lot. He was very impressive to watch in the AFL." The numbers for Martinez in the AFL as well as in the Minors last year don't pop out at you. But there's more there than meets the eye; far more when you adjust for Martinez's age.

In A-ball last year, Martinez sparkled with a .333 average and .505 slugging percentage (.388 average on balls in play). Once promoted to St. Lucie, Martinez hit just .193, but he had five homers and 11 extra-base hits in his 119 at bats. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was a sparkling .194. Also note that Martinez's average on balls in play (not including homers) was just .198, about 110 points below average. So, he seems to have hit in tough luck after his promotion.

Then, in the AFL, he started out 1-for-18 but then finished 21-for-69 (.304) against some of the better pitching prospects in baseball, most considerably older and with experience at higher levels of the Minor Leagues. Martinez's prospects as a future center fielder appear uncertain. Law thinks he can handle the position, but Sickels has his doubts.

"(He's a) corner outfield in the long run," says Sickels, who also maintains a blog on MinorLeagueBall.com. "A lot of scouts think he will lose speed as he gets older, hurting his range. He has enough arm strength and accuracy to play right field."

It might seem silly to worry about center field with Carlos Beltran still more than capable and not yet 30. But when Beltran's current contract expires in November 2011, Martinez will still be only 22.

Baseball America says that Martinez right now is the best hitter for average and for power in the organization. So, where might he hit in the lineup?

"Given his age I think he projects minimum 20-homer power, and possibly 30-35," Sickels says.

"We need to get more data to be sure. He needs to improve his plate discipline, but given his age and his performance so far I am optimistic about his chances to fully develop his talent."

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