Former Astros top prospect Francis Martes may not get another shot at the majors after another failed drug test.
Major League Baseball announced on Monday that Astros righthanded pitcher Francis Martes has been suspended for the entire 2020 season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug known as Boldenone. This is his second suspension for a positive PED test.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Martes was viewed as the next big thing. He was the final piece the Astros picked up in the Jarred Cosart trade in 2014. By 2016, he was ranked as the club’s top prospect, ahead of Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.
He reached the big leagues in 2017 at age 21, and though he worked to a 5.80 ERA, he managed to miss bats to the tune of 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and power curve, the sky was the limit for the young righthander.
Things Fall Apart
Martes only made five starts in the minors in 2018 and got knocked around while having difficulty locating his pitches. He ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of that year, putting him on track to miss most or all of 2019.
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But in March 2019, his first PED suspension came down, which was for 80 games. Since he was already out thanks to his surgery, the suspension didn’t cause him to miss any more time than he already was. Still, the positive test was a black eye for a promising young player.
He returned at the end of 2019 to make three starts in the lower minors. He pitched just 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs with five walks and 13 strikeouts. He came to Spring Training this year in the hopes of earning a spot in the major league bullpen, but this second PED bust stopped that in its tracks and puts his future in jeopardy.
Martes is under team control through 2025, so it’s unlikely the Astros will simply release him. But his 40-man roster spot could be in jeopardy when his suspension is done. A player serving a suspension does not count against a team’s 40-man roster, but he’ll have to be put back on the roster after the season or be designated for assignment.
Considering he will have gone three years without pitching in the majors, and will only have thrown a total of 25 minor league innings in that span, it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be on the big league roster to start the 2021 season.
Depending on the roster situation, he could end up being DFA’d and thus subjected to waivers. It’s entirely possible he’ll clear waivers in that scenario, as other teams could be wary of the combination of his injury history and his two PED suspensions.
So this doesn’t mean his time with the Astros is necessarily over, but it does call his future into question. He’s still just 24, so he’ll continue to get chances to work his way back, but now there’s a distinct possibility that Martes may have thrown his last pitch in the major leagues.