On Friday I posted my reports on Brewers prospects Angel Ventura and Brandon Diaz from July 9. As promised, here is the second part of that report focusing on a pair of Diamondbacks prospects playing for Kane County.
I was pleasantly surprised to get a look at right-handed pitcher Jose Martinez on this day. A prospect with serious helium entering 2014, Martinez made just two appearances last year after suffering a stress fracture in his throwing elbow. The Diamondbacks have been easing Martinez back into game action this season.
He did not make his season debut until June 20, throwing a single inning at the team’s short season affiliate Hillsboro in the Northwest League. Martinez was immediately promoted to Kane County for his next appearance. In total, he has pitched 8.1 innings in six relief outings between the two levels. He has eight strikeouts and four walks while allowing an opponents' average of just .194
On Thursday, Martinez worked two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. He showed his trademark arm speed working primarily off his fastball at 91-95. He pitched very aggressively, attacking hitters with the heater. The pitch showed good life and most of the Wisconsin swings were late and tentative. Martinez also showed his curve and change sparingly. The curve was inconsistent, but mostly average.
This video of Martinez from MLBDirt.com is almost three years old and is pre-injury, but it gives the general idea of how he looks.
Analyzing Martinez as a prospect is an exceedingly difficult proposition at this point for several reasons. The injury history is troubling all by itself. Additionally, we only have a very small sample size to examine post-injury as he is still very early in his return. Finally, Arizona’s usage of Martinez in July also raises some interesting questions. Martinez pitched three times in a six day span from July 4-9. He worked in two inning stints for a line of six innings, two hits, one walk, six strikeouts, and two earned runs.
The stuff I saw on July 9, while solid, was nowhere near the quality of Martinez’s arsenal before the elbow injury when he routinely worked into the mid-90s with a plus curve. Excusing, or even expecting, a decline in stuff at this point in his return is understandable. Determining causation, however, is tough.
Is this what we can expect from Martinez permanently going forward? An injury of this nature certainly raises that possibility. The other factor to consider is the usage pattern. I saw Martinez on the tail end of his three games in six days stretch. It is possible that his prior usage kept him from being at his best on this day.
Ultimately, we are left with more questions than answers at this point. Does Arizona view Martinez as a reliever going forward, or are they simply easing him back into active duty? Has the injury dropped Martinez’s stuff a full grade across the board, or was he merely a little fatigued on the back end of a long week? Will this usage pattern continue and what is the best way to deal with pitching prospects returning from serious injuries? Martinez’s upside and the larger philosophical questions associated with a prospect in this situation make this a fascinating player to watch going forward.
Quick Hit: I also came away from the game impressed with Kane County second baseman Henry Castillo. A 5’11", 189 pound switch-hitter, Castillo went 4-5 needing only the triple for the cycle (not for lack of trying as he was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple). From the left side, Castillo showed the ability to barrel the ball to all fields. The homer and double both went to the pull side and one of his singles was lined sharply the other way. The fourth hit came in his lone right-handed at bat of the game when he shot a fastball back through the middle for a single.
The 20 year old infielder is off to a nice start in the Midwest League hitting .349/.358/.443 good for 132 WRC+ through 31 games. His approach is extremely aggressive, but he does have a feel for hitting. Defensively, he appears to have the hands, arm, and athleticism to stay in the infield, projecting best at second base. A career .309 hitter in his three professional seasons, there is clearly some offensive ability here. Castillo is another interesting low-profile name to track in the Midwest League.