As we sing the tune of the Tigers' position players on the 40-man roster, we move to third base. But it sounds like a familiar song. Here, we have a young infielder from Venezuela.
Francisco Javier Martinez was born in Rio Chico, Venezuela in what could be a lovely seaside resort town. He was signed by the Tigers and played at age 17 in the Venezuelan Summer League. He arrived in the states at age 18.
But this verse is a little different. Martinez was promoted aggressively, skipping Connecticut and West Michigan to play in Lakeland at only 19 years old. He was up to the challenge. He hit even better in Erie in 2011, was named to the Futures Game with Jacob Turner, and then was gone as part of the package to ransom Doug Fister from Seattle.
I have pulled out only the larger sample sizes and more recent years to boil the numbers down. If you look at all of Martinez's minor league stats, it is a mess. He has played for six seasons in two organizations. Four times he was moved mid-season, including the last three years in a row. Managers have penciled him into five defensive positions plus designated hitter. All this while learning a new language and culture.
So Martinez's performance crashed in Seattle's system, and the Tigers retrieved him. Back in Lakeland and at third base, he regained his hitting form.
One lesson from all of this is that predicting the future is hard. Two years ago, who would have guessed that Doug Fister would be gone, and Francisco Martinez would be the one on the Tigers' roster? Two years from now, are you sure that Fister for Ray and Krol will look bad?
Another lesson here is the hidden cost of signing young international players. Francisco Martinez, Hernan Perez, and Eugenio Suarez were all signed before turning 18. Without spending a 40-man roster spot on them, the Tigers risked losing them in the Rule 5 draft. They are too young to take that chance, so they occupy roster spots. Not because they are the best prospect at their respective positions, but because they were drafted so young and have not yet matured. Jordan Lennerton is the flip side of the coin; drafted after college, so not eligible for the Rule 5 draft until he was 28 years old and beyond prospect status.
Keys to Success
Play a full season at third base in Double-A. Hit .290/.360/.440 and demand attention.
His Oliver Projection is a -0.8 WAR. You would expect players occupying a roster spot to have positive value. What this really points out is the lack of depth at third base in the Tigers' system. The middle infield lacked depth a few years ago, and has been addressed. A middle infield prospect is likely to be moved to third base as Martinez is a long shot.
Put him in Erie. Let him play a full season at third base. See what happens. He is only 23. Do not plan to see him in Detroit. He might be sixth on the depth chart, but he might be tenth.