The Mysterious Case Of Helsin Martinez


In large part due to Yoennis Cespedes, there has been an increased focus by Tigers fans on the international market. For a team that traditionally doesn’t get involved in bidding wars for the best talent, it is a rare, if not somewhat welcomed departure from their philosophy. You see, for those that don’t follow international talent, the Tigers haven’t gotten into bidding for seven figure talent as a rule. Teams like Toronto, Seattle, Kansas City, and the Yankees made it a regular habit in recent years, and soon we will find out if it pays off.

The Tigers themselves have signed a couple of Latin players to big contracts the past couple of years. Danry Vasquez got a seven figure deal from the Tigers, the first of it’s kind for a July 2nd signing from the Tigers that I am aware of. In 2011, the Tigers got close once again, inking 3B Adelin Santa to a deal worth 750K. Given that the Tigers haven’t had a first round pick since 2010, and won’t again in 2012, they could be potentially willing to spend a little more internationally.

We have discussed some of the Cuban players that are available recently, with Yoennis Cespedes and Jorge Soler getting most of the attention. However, there are youngsters available from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela still out there. The Tigers showed as recently as last week that they are players in this market still, signing 16 year old Ignacio Valdez to a contract. Valdez, who signed for just over a quarter of a million dollars, fits more in the mold of the type of signing we have come to expect from the Tigers in the international market. Low six figures.

If the Tigers do fail to sign Cespedes, could it be conceivable that they might go out and sign someone else? Perhaps another young Latin player in the mold of Valdez? Or even someone better?

I don’t know the answer to the first question for sure, though I imagine that part of the appeal of signing Cespedes is the allure of the potential for immediate help he could give the major league club. I do believe he might have to spend some time in the minors to start the year, but by summer, he could be an asset to the major league club. That would probably leave the Tigers less interested in a guy like Jorge Soler who is just 19 years old and at least a couple of years away.

But if the Tigers want to add some talent to their relatively thin farm system, maybe they should look at Helsin Martinez. Problem is, Martinez has become somewhat of a ghost, and it doesn’t appear that many people know the reason why.

Martinez is a highly projectable right-handed hitting 16 year old (supposedly), who looks like he would fit into RF as his career progresses. During the 2011 July 2nd signing period, Martinez was widely considered one of the top 15 talents available by most people, if not one of the top 10 or so. He is known for having good raw power, being a pretty good athlete, and has a 6’5″ frame that scouts can dream upon for more power even yet.

So, where does the mystery that I headlined this article with come from? Well, Martinez was linked heavily to the Seattle Mariners last year when July 2nd rolled around. He trained with a Dominican Republican scout named Pedro Nivar who had previously worked with a kid the Mariners signed just a year before in Phillips Castillo. It seemed like a no-brainer that Seattle was his destination, and everyone including Baseball America projected Martinez to be a Mariner. It seemed so positive to everybody that it was even widely reported the signing indeed happened. Multiple sources were reporting that the Mariners and Helsin agreed to a deal on July 2nd in the neighborhood of about 2M dollars. All you have to do is Google Helsin’s name and a plethora of articles will appear suggesting that is the case.

Only it wasn’t the case.

Part of what you will see when you search Helsin Martinez, is the recanting of a lot of the stories of him signing with the Mariners. Frankly, there was a lot of mass confusion on a lot of people’s part. Mariners top international executive Bob Engle didn’t even take 24 hours before making sure that everyone knew that a deal with Martinez was not in place. The question that doesn’t appear to be answered in this case is, why?

Given that Martinez had status as one of the top players available in the market last year, and the Mariners having experience in dealing with his trainer, it is a curious situation to say the least. Not because the reports of his signing were false, but because nobody has really spoke much of Martinez since. There has been a lack of information as to why the deal was falsely reported, and why the deal ultimately didn’t happen. There really is only guesswork as to why that may be.

It could be simply a matter of an identity issue with Martinez. The nature of international scouting is one which leads to deception. The agents, or handlers (buscones), don’t have their young Latin players best interest in mind that often, and big league clubs who are signing the players, want to believe that the kids they are signing are 16 or 17 years old, so they can develop them fully in their system. More and more we are seeing instances where big league players are now being identified as someone else. Someone older. Both Fausto Carmona and Leo Nunez have recently jumped in age and had their true identities revealed. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more to come.

As for Helsin Martinez, I don’t know if this is the case. For a kid with talent that was supposed to bonus at around 2M dollars though, it is a surprising disappearing act no matter the reason. Maybe the Mariners and the rest of baseball has backed off because they saw him more in game action. Maybe Martinez and his handlers didn’t like what was being offered and weren’t comfortable. Whatever the reason, from the information I can find, it appears that Helsin is still available.

International scouting is a high risk/high reward venture. Sometimes teams can find themselves a Miguel Cabrera or a Felix Hernandez. Other times, they end up with Michael Ynoa. While I would like the Tigers to get little more aggressive in the Latin American market, it isn’t always about signing the highest priced talent. It’s about doing the best job of scouting. Some international scouting departments do a tremendous job without spending a ton of money like the Colorado Rockies. The Tigers have done a better job in this arena in the past 5 or 6 years, but there is still room for improvement.

I don’t know what happened with Helsin Martinez, but I am sure we will find out at some point. Who knows? Maybe he even ends up a Detroit Tiger, but probably not at a 2M dollar price tag.

At the very least, it is a cautionary tale about believing what you hear through media such as Twitter, and waiting until you hear it directly from the club that is supposed to be signing the player.