Francisco Martinez isn't a "big bat," but he owns at least one bat, as evidenced by this picture. Unless he borrowed that one.
Francisco Martinez is quite a polarizing figure for a guy who most Mariner fans have never seen in person. The guy came over in the Doug Fister trade. Fister was a fan-favorite. I think Fister will regress next year, but I liked him enough as a pitcher to be sad that he’s gone. However, when he was traded to Detroit there was a perception that came from some fans and media members about Francisco Martinez.
Here are some truths, and some things that go against Martinez:
The Tigers have a shallow farm system.
Martinez hasn’t dominated at any level.
Martinez strikes out too much.
He’s not a defensive wizard yet.
That’s it. Some people have chosen to view Martinez void of all context. Martinez has been pushed quickly through the Tigers system. Last year he was four years younger than the Double A leagues he played in.
I don’t have a ton of good comprehensive metrics for minor league baseball, but Martinez had the highest OPS (.724) of any qualifying 20 year old not named Anthony Gose in the Eastern League, the league he played in with Detroit’s Double A affiliate. Gose ranks 57th in MLB’s top 100 prospects. If he’d have qualified in the Southern League (he’s two plate appearances short of qualifying for the leaderboard), where the Mariners Double-A affiliate West Tennessee plays he’d have been the top 20 year old in the category there too (.807 OPS).
It’s not that common to see a 20 year old the Eastern League. Here is a list of 20-and-unders from the Eastern League who have out OPS’d Martinez recently.
Anthony Rizzo: .815 OPS, 37th best prospect in 2012
Jesus Montero (you may have heard of him): .909 OPS, 12th best prospect in 2012
Jose Tabata: .774 OPS, 75th prospect in 2009 (in the majors since then)
Ruben Tejeda: .732 OPS
Travis Snider: .818 OPS, 6th best prospect in 2009 (in majors since 2010)
Fernando Martinez: .772 OPS, 30th best prospect in baseball in 2009
The point here isn’t to say that Martinez is as good a prospect as any of these guys. It’s worth noting however, that save for Tejeda, who was a shortstop who moved to second base because of Jose Reyes, the other players project to play either corner outfield positions, first base, or DH long term.
Martinez may not be a defensive wizard at this point in his career, but unlike Alex Liddi, if he moves off the position he’ll end up in one of those corner outfield positions, not in the log-jam that should be first base five years from now. Martinez is a superior athlete to the rest of the Mariners bat-first third base prospects. That’s not to say that Martinez defensive struggles aren’t a concern. He’s much more valuable to the team or in a trade if he sticks at third base. But if he can’t hang at the hot corner his value isn’t sapped as a guy with a below-average first baseman ceiling. He’s further along defensively than Dustin Ackley was a this time last year, also.
And how about those strikeouts? I don’t know if I mentioned this, but Martinez played at least one level up from where he’d traditionally be at in his progression to this point. Double A is a big test for a 20 year old. Martinez struck out in 20.4 percent of his plate appearances last year. That was a slight bump from the 19.0 percent he’d produced at Advanced-A the year before. But have I mentioned yet that Martinez is four years ahead of the average prospect? The elderly group of 24.4 year olds in the Eastern League struck out 19.9 percent on average. The guys back at Advanced-A where Martinez played last year struck out at 19.9 percent last year too.
He was about a percent better than average last year playing in a league three years older than him, and a half-percent worse than average this year playing in a league four years older than him. Four years. Four Years. FOUR YEARS.
But what about the long ball? We’re tired of gloves. What about his bat. Does he have a big bat? I bet it’s about 33 inches long, and somewhere around 32 ounces, give or take a couple inches our ounces. He hit 10 home runs last year, and posted an ISO of .137. What an asshole! I’m not an expert on park factors in the Eastern League, but Martinez was in a three way tie for second on his team in home runs. He was behind a 25 year old, and was tied with a 23 year old, and a 27 year old. I hardly think that three players from a shitty farm system’s Double A affiliate qualify as adequate qualitative measuring sticks, but still.
He wasn’t close to the league lead though. He was 46th. Interestingly, Chih-Hsien Chiang was 7th in the league despite limited time in the league, hitting 18 homers and 37 doubles in 358 plate appearances. He’s 23 years old.
I don’t know if Martinez will be a great MLB third baseman. I think he will be an MLB third baseman though. He’s got a chance to be pretty good. He’s on the right track so far. He’ll be interesting to watch this year, wherever he ends up in the Mariners system. I’d like to see him walk more, and see his glove improve, but there’s an outside shot that he makes his MLB debut this year. All of the aforementioned high-OPS Eastern Leaguers have.