Prospect of the Day: J.D. Martinez, OF, Houston Astros
Houston Astros outfield prospect J.D. Martinez is tearing up the Double-A Texas League, ranking fourth in the circuit in batting average and ninth in OPS despite playing in the difficult hitting environment of Corpus Christi. What explains the success of this former 20th round draft pick?
Martinez was a very successful player at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, hitting .428/.530/.770 in 2009, with 41 walks against 26 strikeouts in 187 at-bats. Although the NSU Sharks play good competition in the Sunshine State Conference, it is still a Division II school. Despite his performance, his college background and an unorthodox swing ensured that Martinez was lost in the shuffle on draft day, falling to the 20th round.
He adapted quickly to pro ball, hitting .326/.380/.540 for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League after signing, winning the league batting title. Still, a college senior tearing up the NY-P is not unusual, so he still had things to prove. However, he eased doubts that the numbers were fluky by hitting .362/.433/.598 with 15 homers in 88 games for Low-A Lexington last year, then .302/.357/.407 in 50 games after a leap to Double-A, skipping High-A entirely. Returning to Corpus Christi this year, he's hitting .332/.412/.511, showing more power.
In 123 Double-A games, Martinez is hitting .319/.390/.468 with 27 doubles, 12 homers, 53 walks, and 88 strikeouts in 451 at-bats. His overall career line at all levels is .341/.406/.543.
A 6-3, 200 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, he's slowed down as he's put on muscle over the last two years, so his speed is now below average and he is not much of a basestealer. He has an average arm but it is good enough that the Astros used him in right field last year, though he's been in left this year. His glovework isn't great but it isn't terrible, either.
Martinez's swing mechanics are unorthodox, but his physical strength and solid plate discipline make it work for him. He's fanned just 46 times this year in 262 at-bats, while drawing 38 walks. He's held his own in the difficult Corpus Christi park (.305/.404/.468) but has been outstanding on the road (.364/.423/.562). All of his components have improved: he boosted his BB% from 7.2% in Double-A last year to 12.3% this year, while lowering his K% from 20.3% to 14.9%. He's been especially hot lately and has the strike zone locked in, hitting .425/.556/.750 with 12 walks and just four strikeouts in his last 12 games. Houston officials praise his feel for hitting and plate discipline.
Martinez turns 24 at the end of August and at this point he doesn't have much left to prove in the Texas League. He deserves a promotion to Triple-A, and if he maintains his momentum there (I expect he will), he will see Houston sometime in 2012.