Position players with extraordinarily high potential and correspondingly high risk are one of the things common among most good farm systems. While many players never put the pieces together and become useful components of a good team, there are always gems that reveal themselves to be better than average.
This means, of course, that the Detroit Tigers don't have many of them. Between their hesitancy to spend big money on international free agents and their strong preference for drafting pitchers, it is unusual to find a high ceiling position player among Detroit's top prospects. However, they may have snagged a good one in 2013 on a very wallet-friendly bonus when they signed Dominican infielder Hector Martinez to a $400,000 contract.
When Tigers brass inked Martinez three and a half years ago, they signed him as a shortstop. However, in his short time in Detroit’s minor league system, he has already slid to the right, and now mans the keystone. This switch does not mean that Martinez is a poor defender. In fact, he is projected to blossom into an above average defender at second base. Earlier this offseason, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen praised Martinez’s defense, and gave his glove a future 55 grade (above average).
Martinez has already moved to second base, but he could be quite good there. He’s a 55 runner, his arm and arm action are better suited for second than they were for short, and he has good instincts and athleticism.
Martinez’s calling card, though, is certainly not his defense. While it is solid, it is not what will get him atop prospect lists or into the major leagues. What Martinez thrives on is his bat. In the looks that FanGraphs’ evaluators got, Martinez showed “above-average bat speed, feel for the barrel, good extension through contact,” a trio of skills that could give him excellent abilities at the plate, combining high average and solid power. Longenhagen gave Martinez’s hit tool a future 50 grade, and his raw power a 55.
Unfortunately, Martinez is incredibly raw at the plate. His swing, though promising, needs quite a bit of work. He sabotages his own ability to make consistent contact — let alone consistent powerful contact — by needlessly lengthening the first half of his swing. He lifts his hands above his head before executing his swing, a problem that will need to be fixed if he is going to rise through the system.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura, one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s many acquisitions this offseason, wrestled with a similar issue. After an incredible rookie season in 2013 that saw him bat .294/.329/.423, Segura fell off a cliff. His production plummeted. He was practically dead weight until the 2016 season, when he broke out, hitting .319/.368/.499. What changed?
Despite the different camera angles in these two pictures, the change is quite easy to see. As Segura set up before the pitch in 2016 (right), his hands were far lower. As fleshed out by Beyond the Box Score, the results prove that changes like these can be done and are well worth the effort.
The biggest problem with offense-first prospects like Martinez, though, is that while they often have lots of good qualities, they often do not polish those traits to the point where they are usable. Unlike players with a defense-first profile, offensive prospects require a lot of moving parts to all work perfectly together. Nearly any festering imperfection or flaw in that player’s game will destroy his value. One flaw that could fly under the radar with Martinez is his batted ball profile.
As you can see, Martinez hits a lot of ground balls. In fact, his 60.91 percent ground ball rate is nearly triple his fly ball rate of 21.82 percent. While it is true that ground balls result in a higher batting average than fly balls, hitting too many ground balls can minimize a player’s power. Due to the low rate at which fly balls leave the park — just 12.8 percent of fly balls were home runs at the MLB level in 2016 — a slugger has to hit a lot of fly balls in order to rack up home runs. Also, hitting lots of ground balls almost ensures that a player will be a singles hitter. Only a major lapse in defense or the absolute hardest-hit grounders will result in a double.
Jacob’s Scouting Report:
Projected Team: Short Season Connecticut Tigers
After spending his first season in the United States with the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League team, Martinez is obviously a long, long ways off from the majors. At his age, there is no reason to try and rush things. Odds are that, much like with many young international players, Martinez will spend a full year at each developmental level, inching his way up the ranks until it is his turn to take at-bats in Comerica Park. This year, he will spend time in extended spring training before heading to Connecticut in June.