Amidst the torrential poo-nado of the Alex Gonzalez trade that commandeered social media on Monday there was an under-the-radar signing made by the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t draw too many curses simply because it wasn’t the most thought-provoking deal of the day, but it was a very low-risk and intriguing contract that may not just impact the Tigers’ present, but also Detroit’s future.
Jul 10, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Houston Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez (14) hits an RBI single off of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (not pictured) during the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
On Saturday the Houston Astros bade a tepid farewell to a player that had been one of its lone bright spots over the past few years, JD Martinez. Houston drafted him in 2009, a modest 20th round pick out of Nova Southeastern University (which is neat considering he was drafted by the Twins right out of high school in the 36th round in 2006), and within two years he was called up to the majors to replace Hunter Pence, who was traded to the Phillies.
According to an article on Fangraphs by Ben Duronio, Martinez’s arrival in the bigs in 2011 brought some light to his pros and cons as a hitter:
"“Last year, combined between double-A and the Majors, Martinez hit .318 with 19 home runs in 596 plate appearances. At 23-years-old, his dominance of double-A was not incredibly impressive, but it does show the type of player he is.In his 226 plate appearances in the majors, he was able to hit just around league average with a 101 wRC+. He had massive struggles with his walk and strikeout rates compared to his minor league rates, however, but to me that is somewhat of a positive. He was able to perform at a league average rate while having a very poor walk to strikeout rate, so with an improvement in that area he could become more impressive.”"
That is Martinez in a nutshell: he has skills that could translate to a successful major league career, but his K/BB ratio and his proclivity to have both very hot and very cold streaks can raise hackles from both fans and management. In his minor league career Martinez showed a decent ability to take a walk and hit for power, so there are useful skills here he possesses. In terms of speed he hovers around league average, and he seems to be more of a gap-hitter than a home-run threat.
His defense also presents an intriguing option, wherein he is below average in left field, but may be better suited for right. His OOZ shows he has good range (104 in 1,842 OF innings), and he has a pretty good arm, as seen from this berserk throw from left to nail a runner at the plate:
For the time being, Martinez represents yet another solid option while Andy Dirks is on the shelf. Defensively solid, Martinez can hit lefties at a solid rate, and last season was able to actually hit righties more successfully. In 2014 he should be a more seasoned option than bringing up Steven Moya or Dan Fields before they’re ready, allowed them to gain experience at their own pace and to give Martinez the repetition he needs.
It’s also worth noting that Martinez spent the offseason reworking his swing in an effort to emulate Ryan Braun and former teammate Jason Castro. He noticed that his bat wasn’t staying in the zone long enough, so he has been working to keep his bat there longer in addition to changing his hand placement, leg kick, and stride. The results haven’t been there this spring (.167/.250/.222), but what can anyone expect when a hitter scraps everything and starts from scratch?
Keep in mind, Martinez is only 26 at this point in his career, and injuries and inconsistency has dogged him on a series of bad teams. There is a lot of upside for a guy like this in Detroit, if given the chance. A lot of people view this as an organizational depth move, but I see him as a lottery-ticket for the future: if the Tigers choose not to resign Torii Hunter, Martinez could step in and be the right-handed hitter and solid defender to take his place. His range couples well with Austin Jackson, and his ability to shoot the gaps in a large park like Comerica could pay dividends if he’s given a chance to succeed here.
Let’s give him a shot. Maybe JD Martinez can be a pleasant surprise in the midst of a sea of head-scratching shortstop acquisitions.