When the Astros called up JD Martinez last season, it happened during one of the most difficult stretches the franchise had seen. Hunter Pence had just been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in an emotional transaction that rocked the ‘Stros clubhouse and organization. Only a day later Michael Bourn would follow Pence out of town and with that, the ‘Stros had begun a true rebuilding plan. While that could be quite a lot for a young player to absorb especially one who was being jumped from AA, Martinez, the 2009 20th round pick, handled it beautifully. He would immediatly help pick up the slack from losing Pence and Bourn and also help ease the transition for most of the ‘Stros fans. This could be a glimpse of things to come as Martinez has done one thing really well since coming into the organization, hit the ball.
The Nova Southeastern University product quickly moved up the Astros system with some outstanding statistics. He would produce at every level, hitting and proving his worth as of middle of the order hitter. In 2010, he would capture the Astros minor league hitter of the year award and establishing himself as an Astros prospect to watch. Through all his minor league success, the one missing aspect of his offensive game was power. Martinez’s swing was more of a line-drive stroke with gap power but being a left fielder, power is a must. Due to Martinez’s limitations in the outfield and lack of speed, J.D. needed to hit for more power than he’d showed. When he arrived in Corpus Christi, the Astros made a point to express the necessity for J.D. Martinez to use more of an uppercut stroke to increase his power potential and complete his arsenal. It took a while but Martinez’s power would explode in June and July of 2011. It was clear he could hit, now the Astros saw an everyday major league player being formed and it helped make him more than just a diamond in the rough.
Shortly after speculation began to take shape that Hunter Pence could be dealt, fans began to imagine how J.D. Martinez would look in right or left field. Even though he was currently in AA, everyone saw Jose Altuve move straight from Corpus to Houston so most expected the same could be in store for Martinez. When Pence was indeed traded to Philadelphia, Martinez was called up and in his first game showed off his new uppercut stroke. He would go on to hit .274 with an OPS of .742 with 6 HRs and 35 RBIs. Given the circumstances, that was a good line for someone who jumped straight from AA to the big leagues.
Of all the rookies called up last season, J.D. Martinez may be the best bet to succeed. While he has limitations that may never allow him to be a star, his floor appears to be the highest. Given the fact that the ‘Stros will need a DH soon, Martinez’s arrival might have come at the ideal time for a club looking for cheap young run producers.