It has been a disappointing season in Philadelphia, with the big league team mired 21 games out of first place. As the season approaches the finish line, the Phillies have the opportunity to evaluate some young players. Although it remains to be seen what his exact role will be, right-handed pitcher Ethan Martin is one of the more promising. Let's take a look at his background, his present, and his possible future as Wednesday's Prospect of the Day.
Martin was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the 2008 draft, 15th overall, from high school in Toccoa, Georgia. He was a two-way player in high school and a prospect as a power hitter, but the Dodgers wanted his strong arm on the mound. He was understandably raw but was pushed aggressively, opening 2009 in full-season ball with no intervening rookie ball experience. He was erratic in the Midwest League, posting a 3.87 ERA for Great Lakes with a 120/61 K/BB in 100 innings. His stuff was excellent but his command was not.
Moved up to the High-A California League for 2010, he struggled with severe control problems, posting a 6.35 ERA and walking 81 guys in 113 innings, with 105 strikeouts for Inland Empire. His problems got worse as the season progressed; he lost the touch with his mechanics, hampering both his velocity and command. He returned to the California League to open 2011 but was even worse, posting a 7.36 ERA with 37 walks in 55 innings.
At that point the Dodgers made a curious decision: despite his awful Cal League numbers, they promoted him to Double-A Chattanooga and moved him to the bullpen. He responded with a 4.02 ERA in 40 innings, with a 43/29 K/BB ratio. His command was still poor, but he looked better as a reliever; the switch in roles also seemed to restore his sagging confidence.
He returned to Chattanooga as a starter to open 2012, still struggling with his command at times but not as badly as in '10 and '11, posting a 3.58 ERA with a 112/61 K/BB in 118 innings, with just 89 hits allowed. He was traded to the Phillies last July for Shane Victorino, then posted a 3.18 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Reading, with a 35/18 K/BB.
In 2013 he's gone 11-5 in 21 starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, with a 4.12 ERA and a 107/67 K/BB in 116 innings, with 94 hits allowed. He's made four starts for the big league club this month, posting a 5.23 ERA in 20.2 innings, with a 22/10 K/BB. Martin has pitched well in two of his four major league starts, particularly in Monday's outing against the Rockies, although he's likely to lose his current rotation spot when Roy Halladay and Jonathan Pettibone return from the disabled list.
Martin is a 6-2, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born June 6, 1989. Like most two-way players, he's quite athletic although as you'd expect arm strength is his best tool. His fastball will top out at 96-97 MPH and is consistently in the low 90s, although he has a tendency to lose both velocity and command of the pitch as a game progresses. In shorter stints he is more dominant.
He doesn't have just the fastball; he also owns a slider, hard curveball, and change-up. All three have progressed considerably since high school, giving him a complete four-pitch arsenal. As a result, it is easy to dream on Martin as a workhorse starter who can dominate when his command is on.
The problem is that his command is not always on, and his walk rates throughout his professional career have been too high for consistent success. Sometimes his control is just downright missing, and even when he throws strikes, they aren't always quality strikes if his command within the zone is sloppy that day.
That said, the stuff is clearly here, and his command and control are better than they were a couple of years ago. Relief may seem Martin's obvious destination, but the temptation to project him as a starter remains strong because he can eat innings and has more than just one or two pitches.