At what point is a prospect not a prospect? Does a player ever lose their skills or does the point just come when the determination is made that they will never reach their full potential? When is that determination made? In the case of Fernando Martinez the Mets made that determination last season when they placed him on waivers. However the Astros risked nothing and took a chance on the now 24-year old and claimed him off of waivers. Is Martinez a young player Astros fans should be excited about entering the 2013 season?
Martinez started his career in 2006 as a 16 year old, so there is at least a minor league track record to review. The problem though is that it seemed just about every season saw Martinez deal with some sort of injury or ailment which hindered his development and caused the Mets to eventually lose patience with him. He did have 145 plate appearances with the Mets from 2009 to 2011 but he only managed to hit .166 in that stretch with 2 HR, 12 RBI, and 2 SB. Those are not numbers that matched his supposed tools so it is perfectly understandable why he was available last offseason.
Last season with the Astros, Martinez had 130 plate appearances and had a .237 average with 6 HR and 12 RBI. For a former top prospect who was given extended playing time in the second half you would have liked to have seen a better performance out of Martinez. He didn’t steal any bases last season and the most he has had in a season in the minors is eight, so you can eliminate that from your Martinez projection going into 2013.
Before last season Martinez never proved to be much of a power threat but he had 13 home runs in AAA (373 plate appearances) before adding 6 in the majors. At least based on his major league stats I am not sure I would expect to see that power continue as he had a fly ball rate of 34.1% but a HR/FB rate of 20.7%. As that normalizes his home runs will as well.
The other area to look at when projecting Martinez for next season is batting average. Last year he hit .237 with the Astros and although there is room for improvement, there are two factors that are still holding him back; line drive rate and strikeouts. Historically Martinez has not hit many line drives and his rate of 9.4% with the Astros last season makes sense compared to his past major league time and is not a cause for optimism. Also when you strike out 26.2% of the time (as he did last season) and don’t draw walks; there are some limits to your batting average.
While Martinez certainly has potential and showed some flashes of it last season (hits in 5 straight games and home runs in 3 straight at the end of the season) there is plenty of competition in the Astros outfield. I am going to operate under the assumption that Jason Maxwell is pretty much guaranteed a starting spot and the same goes for J.D. Martinez. That then leaves one spot open for competition among Martinez, Brandon Barnes, Jimmy Paredes, Trevor Crowe, Robbie Grossman and any other young player that happens to emerge in Spring Training.
Martinez will be given a chance to earn a spot but that is not a certainty and even if he does earn it, this season is pretty much an open tryout in Houston for the majority of the roster. So far it seems Martinez has more “bark” than “bite” and I am not too optimistic about him entering the season. But that is perfectly fine since there is no harm in taking a chance on a 24-year old prospect with his talent when there is no risk involved and plenty of competition behind him.