Is Jose Martinez For Real?

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Right field for the Kansas City Royals has turned into an open audition this spring, as scheduled starter Jarrod Dyson is dealing with a strained oblique that will probably keep him sidelined until the middle of April at the earliest. About three weeks ago I discussed some of the possibilities the Royals would have in right field this season, and while Dyson and Orlando were expected to get the majority of playing time, there were also a few wild card candidates for Kansas City to keep an eye on. One of those players with an outside chance was 27 year old outfielder Jose Martinez, an outfielder who had been playing in an independent league in 2014. Martinez had a stellar 2015 season for the Royals Triple A team in Omaha, but before that he was a marginal prospect at best. So is Martinez for real? Let’s find out.

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Martinez was initially ticketed for Double A Northwest Arkansas for the 2015 campaign, but once Paulo Orlando made the big league roster, Martinez was elevated to Omaha instead. Martinez took advantage of the opportunity, as he was one of the best players in the Pacific Coast League last year, leading the minors in batting and OBP, with a .384 average and an OBP of .461, while also slugging .563. While those numbers are all impressive, when you dig deeper it paints an even better picture for Martinez. Jose seemed to master the strike zone last year, slapping together a 12.1% K rate and 13.9% walk rate. While the strikeout rate is fairly close to his entire minor league career, the walk rate took a steep incline up, as his previous high was 9% in 2014, a year in which he played in 66 games in High A ball. Throw in an insane BABIP of .434 and you have a guy who spent the summer just flat out raking and terrorizing PCL pitchers. There is a prevalent thought that his season was the outlier of his career, which is true, but there are reasons to think it might not be as far fetched as first thought.

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So how was this season not as flukish as it appears at first glance? For one, he has been a pretty good hitter off and on throughout his minor league career, at least when it comes to getting on base.  He hasn’t been as consistent on a year to year basis, but you can see where a guy like Martinez could be a serious prospect if he really pieced all his tools together. Second, he actually was a significant prospect at one time. Back in 2007, Martinez was the Chicago White Sox’s number 7 prospect before his age 18 season. Sometimes with age, a player picks up on parts of the game that a younger player might not be able to decipher during their younger years. There is no way to know for sure if something clicked with Martinez last year that will stick, but if he had hit earlier in his career the way he did in 2015, he would probably have already been at the least a big league backup right now.

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But there even more reasons to think Martinez might still be blossoming. For one, he has a very smooth, flat, line drive swing that makes for a very consistent hitter, which Martinez was in 2015. There is also the outside chance that his power has not even fully developed, as in the last ten years players between 6’6 and 6’8(Martinez is 6’7) had a combined ISO(isolated power mark) of .223. Martinez had his highest ISO last year (.179) and also put up career best power numbers and the most extra base hits of his career as well. It’s very possible that Martinez is just now reaching his power potential, and when you add in his ability to get on base, you have a player who could contribute in the majors. 2015 also saw Martinez have one of the best hard hit rates in the entire Royals organization, a sign that he wasn’t just getting lucky hits. In fact, Martinez is the perfect hitter for what the Royals like, a contact hitter who puts the ball in play at a very high rate.

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So is Martinez the real deal and someone who could see playing time for the Royals this year? I feel the Royals are taking a wait and see attitude with Martinez, wanting him to prove that his career season last year was not a fluke. ZiPS is projecting Martinez’s numbers to go down a tad but still very solid; .280/.330/.391 with a BABIP of .328.Obviously ZiPS is going off his past numbers a bit, so the numbers are bound to even out. I tend to think that while something like his BABIP might take a healthy plunge(.434 is just really insane) I can still see Martinez putting up above average numbers to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. While the chances of Martinez being a big league regular are probably a tad slim(and his age doesn’t help him in this regard), it is not inconceivable to imagine Martinez being a backup outfielder for Kansas City this year. With Dyson down for a few weeks and the uncertainty that goes along with Travis Snider and Brett Eibner, Martinez could very well slide into a big league job to start the 2015 campaign. Last year was all about the 29 year old rookie Paulo Orlando; could 2016 be all about 27 year old rookie Jose Martinez?

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