When Baseball America released their Top Ten Prospects list for the Cubs organization back in November, Eddy Julio Martinez didn’t feature anywhere. When Fangraphs followed up with their list in January, he didn’t show up in the top ten there, either. John Sickels over at Minor League Ball kept the shutout going when he released his top twenty list in January, and MLB.com put Martinez at twelve on their list in February.
All of which is to say that it was something of a surprise when Baseball Prospectus (hey, that’s us!) released their list last week and placed Martinez fifth. Here’s the writeup from the Prospect Team:
This is an aggressive ranking for a player with this little experience and limited viewing ([our] report is based on video and international scouts), but the upside is higher than that of any hitter in the system—even [Gleyber] Torres. He’s an exceptional athlete, and you can see that athleticism come through in a swing that has plus-plus bat speed. He needs to do a better job of refining it, however, and it’d be surprising if there isn’t a boatload of swing-and-miss in this profile. He shows plus raw power from his strong wrists and the aforementioned bat speed, but he’s going to have to show more patience at the plate if he’s going to tap into it. He’s an easy plus runner, and he should be a significant nuisance if and when he gets on base.
Fortunately for Martinez, he’s much more advanced with the glove, and he should be a lock to stick in center field. If he was to move to a corner he’d be just fine there, and his plus arm would make him a nice asset in right field.
There’s a ton of volatility here, but if you squint really hard and dream even harder, you could see him becoming a poor man’s Andruw Jones. It’s just as likely he’s a fourth outfielder, but the ceiling is just too high to not land in the top five in this system.
“A poor man’s Andruw Jones” doesn’t sound half bad, even if it’s a bit more aggressive than I’d have been, so I thought I’d ask someone “in the know” a little bit more about Martinez, to better preview his season for you, the devoted reader. In this case, the person “in the know” is Cubs’ Assistant Director for International Scouting and Player Development, Alex Suarez, who played a key role in signing the young Cuban for $3 million last fall. We started by talking a little bit about Martinez’s defense.
“[He has] a really good feel [out there] and shows instincts that should only continue to get better the more games he plays professionally,” Suarez told me. “His routes and reads are very good for a kid that hasn’t played a lot of amateur or professional baseball for the last year.” This comports entirely with not only the BP report above, but what I heard quietly from Cubs folks at the end of last year, which is that they had every expectation that he’d be able to play center going forward.
But those repetitions, especially at the plate, where the Cubs like Martinez’s bat speed and raw power, are what count right now. “He’s adjusting to life in the States on and off the field,” Suarez told me. “Right now we are trying to get him as much repetition as possible to make up for about one year of game experience he missed through his defection.” That means that, for Martinez, Spring Training 2016 is more important than usual, and will dictate to a large degree where he ends up playing this season—Suarez says the goal is South Bend.
Part of the reason Martinez was ranked so low—or not ranked at all—by other organizations in the industry is that folks simply haven’t have a chance to get a good look at him. After all, he signed in October—after most leagues had wrapped up—and spent the months before he signed working out alone in the Dominican Republic. The Cubs, too, are just getting to know Martinez’s profile. Right now, according to Suarez, they’re “getting lots of looks on the base paths, at the plate, and off the bat until [they] get to know him a little better as a player, and can put together a detailed development plan for him.”
That’s on the field. Off the field, the team has him in English classes every day during spring training, which will be absolutely critical for his communication with his teammates and coaches, and is part of a broader prospect development program that Suarez oversees. The results are promising. “For a young Cuban kid in this country for the first time, there is always a concern for how quickly they adjust to life in the States,” says Suarez, “but Eddy has shown that he has survival instincts and has made some very quick adjustments to every aspect of his development as a player.”
And in 2016? Suarez has high hopes for the team’s young Cuban star. “It’s been really fun to watch him grow as a teammate and a member of this organization,” he says. “He fits right in, and get along with his teammates very well—both English- and Spanish-speaking.” That wonderful news for Cubs fans, because for Martinez, the main goal in 2015 was just to adjust to a totally new life. He seems to be doing just that. With the dawn of 2016 now fast-approaching, he’ll now be able to take the next step in his development and play some organized baseball. That’ll be fun for him, and fun for fans of the team. Keep an eye on this one.
Lead photo courtesy of me, the author, because no USA Today photo of Martinez exists.