When the Texas Rangers signed 23-year-old Leonys Martin following his 2011 defection from Cuba, they knew they had a speedy center field prospect with strong defensive skills on their hands. The hope was that other tools would develop allowing him to turn into a top-of-the order bat who could hit for low double digit home runs to go along with the ability to snag a lot of bases.
While the steals and defense were certainly there, the rest of the package didn’t exactly come together in Arlington. Martin put together two seasons in 2013 and 2014 that weren’t terrible, but outside the 30+ stolen bases a season they weren’t outstanding. His .274 batting average in 2014 was respectable, but a strikeout rate over 20 percent and a walk rate right around six percent didn’t do much to help his on base percentage which remained below league average. Add to that an OPS that had never been North of .700, and it’s easy to understand why the Rangers were willing to part ways with him after the 2015 season when they traded him to the Seattle Mariners.
His one season in Seattle turned out to be a pleasant surprise in the power department. Not really known as a place where power blossoms, it was probably a surprise to see a 29-year-old put up a career high 15 home runs for the Mariners in 2016. The increase in power also came with a career high 26 percent strikeout rate.
After a slow start to the 2017 season Martin was demoted to triple-a Tacoma where he played well enough to make a return to the big club before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs on August 31 in what was most likely an effort by the Cubs to acquire some speed and defense to have as depth for a playoff run.
Now Martin has signed a major league deal with the Tigers, and has most people wondering what to expect from the newly acquired outfielder. While the depth chart in the outfield is technically set at Nicholas Castellanos in right field, JaCoby Jones in center, and Mikie Mahtook in left, it’s easy to see where Martin could find himself some room to get regular at bats. Especially in center where Jones has not proven capable of seizing the opportunities he has been given to take over that role.
On defense Martin is undoubtedly an upgrade. A 32.5 Ultimate Zone Rating and a Defensive Runs Saved of 46 put him miles ahead of anything the Tigers might otherwise trot out in 2018. As long as Martin can produce enough to stay in center field on a regular basis, he’ll be a boon to the Tigers’ staff of young pitchers.
It’s tough to say what we could expect to see on the offensive side of things. The last few years have seen his fly ball rate jump up measurably which could be an indicator that he made the “sell out for power” move that many other hitters have made recently, but to much less success. He could continue that effort, or he may revert back to his prior approach. Either way, if he can replicate numbers from some of his recent successful seasons he will prove useful.
Lackluster bat aside, Martin is a guy who has a career bWAR of 10.2. His defense and speed are going to play well in Comerica Park. He does put up slightly better numbers against right-handed pitching so he could be a platoon candidate, and if a platoon situation helps him post improved offensive numbers in any way he will be a more attractive player in a trade. His speed and defense alone already make him a somewhat desirable piece, as the Cubs showed at last year’s deadline.
The current strategy in Detroit seems to be acquiring cheap bounce-back type players on short-term deals in hopes that a resurgence of sorts in Detroit could yield the organization a somewhat valuable return at the trade deadline. Martin seems to fit that mold pretty well. In the meantime, the Tigers’ pitching staff is going to be very happy to have him patrolling center field.