Julio Daniel Martinez led the Astros with 55 RBIs in 2012. But his season still has to be considered a disappointment. The Astros outfielder went through a lengthy slump for the first time in his pro career and was demoted to AAA Oklahoma City in early August. Martinez seemed to lose his confidence and his troubles at the plate continued during his month long stint in the minors.
The question that has to be asked about Martinez is: was this simply a sophomore slump that he will be able to work through, or have major league pitchers found a hole in his swing? I certainly don’t have the answer to that question. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.
Chosen by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 draft, Martinez set out on a mission to prove he should have been drafter earlier. Martinez zoomed through the Astros farm system, hitting over .300 at every stop along the way. On July 30, 2011 Martinez was promoted from AA Corpus Christi straight to the big leagues. Martinez was an instant success, driving in 29 runs in his first 29 games. Although he cooled off somewhat in September, Martinez had done enough to secure the starting leftfielder’s job entering Spring Training in 2012.
Martinez got off to another hot start last season. On April 13th he became the first player to hit a homerun in the new Marlins Stadium in his hometown of Miami. When the Astros left town two days later Martinez boasted a .371 batting average and 10 RBIs through the first nine games. But then J.D. went into a power drought. He didn’t hit another homer until May 25th and his average had dropped to .243.
J.D. still had a knack for driving in runs but his strikeout rate continued to rise. On August 10, mired in a 4 for 37 slump, Martinez was optioned to AAA Oklahoma City. His struggles continued through his first ever stint at the level. After a September recall Martinez finished the season with a disappointing .241/.311/.375 slash line. Even more troubling, Martinez saw his line drive percentage plummet from 27.6 in 2011 to 16.6 in 2012. Likewise, his ground ball rate increased from 36.8 to 51.8%. These numbers are definitely reasons for concern.
Viewed as a below average fielder in the minors, Martinez figured to be a DH candidate upon reaching the big leagues. But J.D. pressed the issue and played better defense than expected. His throwing arm has proved to be both strong and accurate, making him an option at either corner outfield position.
Martinez will be one of several players competing for outfield playing time this spring. The Astros are hoping the 25-year old can find his stroke and produce the way he did in his first month in the majors. If Martinez struggles he still has minor league options remaining and could be sent back to OKC. John Mallee has replaced Mike Barnett as Houston’s hitting coach and his relationship with Martinez could prove to be an important one for the Astros.