Formerly one of the Texas Rangers top prospects, JP Martinez is coming off another disappointing year? Can he rebound and find his ceiling?
In 2018, the Texas Rangers made an aggressive push to sign the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” pitcher/ designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. To everyone’s surprise, the Japanese superstar signed with the divisional rival Los Angeles Angels, forcing the Rangers to turn elsewhere. Thus, the signing of Cuban born speedster Julio Pablo Martinez. The Rangers signed the speedy outfielder to a $2.8 million deal with the remaining international bonus pool money, and thought they had struck gold.
Martinez has a smooth, left handed swing with good bat-to-ball skills at the plate. In the field, his plus speed allows him to play any of the three outfield positions, but has a below average arm. The ceiling is incredibly high with the young Cuban born outfielder, but after two below average professional seasons, what can the Texas Rangers and fans expect of him? First, let’s look at what makes him such an attractive piece to any big league club.
Independent and Foreign Leagues
Cuban National Series
Martinez began playing professional baseball in the Cuban National Series at the age of 16, and quickly became a monstrous hitter. His third year in the league, at age 19, he hit .305/.383/.426. Specifically, when playing with Guantanamo, Martinez hit .323, while driving in 15 of his total 28 RBI’s, and swatting 10 doubles and 3 triples. In his 5th year, he hit .333/.469/.498 whilst hitting six homers and stealing a career high 27 bases, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
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Independent League-Canadian-American Association (CAMA)
After five years in the Cuban National Series, Martinez moved to Independent ball and was a breakout player in the CAMA, playing with the Cuban National team and Trois-Rivieres. While in Indy ball, especially his second season, he hit .297 and hit seven homers as a 21 year old in 2017. He drew a lot of attention from big league ball-clubs, and the Rangers took notice and signed him in March of 2018.
Rangers Minor League Affiliates
DSL Rangers, Surprise, and Spokane
J.P. Martinez moved between three, yes three, of the Rangers lower level minor league teams. His first stint in the Dominican Summer League, he hit a whopping .409 in a short sample size of 7 games. He then got the call to Short Season Spokane, hit .252, 8 homers, 21 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases. After two impressive stints in the short season systems, the Rangers sent him to Arizona to participate with the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League. In a short sample size there, he hit .327 with 17 total hits, 5 of those being doubles. The sample size was enough for the Rangers to promote him in 2019 to Hickory and eventually Down East.
A Ball Hickory and High A Down-East
Collectively, at both levels, Martinez hit .249 with 63 RBI’s and 15 home runs. For the Rangers, the now 23 year old was expected to be in Frisco, if not in Nashville. Expectations for Martinez were set very high because of his past production, but he has shown himself to be a victim of the strikeout with 156 in 500 plate appearances. The bat-to-ball skills haven’t translated to the minor leagues so far. So, what can the Rangers expect of him?
The Future in Arlington
Martinez has shown that his skillset could play at the major league level. His ability to work counts is very attractive to the Rangers, but he has to shorten his swing and try for gap-to-gap power instead of the long ball to advance into the upper levels of the minors. Going forward, the Rangers will give him another year at Down-East, with the possibility of sending him back to Hickory. Fellow teammate and highly touted prospect Leody Taveras, who is several years younger, has excelled in the minors, moving from Hickory to Frisco in 2019, and could start in Nashville beginning in 2020.
The future outfield for the Rangers future revolves around Taveras, Martinez and former first rounder Bubba Thompson, but there has to be growth from the latter two. Martinez will get every opportunity to prove he was worth the investment, with the skill set in place, but if improvements are not made within the next year he is likely to lose his hype. J.P. Martinez looked to be a pivotal piece of the Texas Rangers next playoff contending team, but is running out of chances to prove his worth.