With the Rule IV Draft officially in the books, the focus for Bobby Heck and his staff has now turned to getting those picks signed and on the field for the Short-Season affiliates. Although, there is still scouting to be done as Heck has said they want to scout some of the HS draftees in Summer Leagues before offering contracts. But, there is still work to be done with the full season minor league rosters. Many of the minor league players have shown the ability to all but dominate their current level and have earned a mid-season promotion. Which leads to this series I will be writing up; Candidates for Mid-Season Promotion
Many of the things that Heck and Co. probably look for in these prospects are things we likely cannot evaluate, things such as specific adjustments at the plate in their swing and approach or in their defense for position players. As for pitchers, it’s developing command of pitches as well as developing the pitches and pitchability. But, what we can evaluate is plate discipline which can tangentially be tied to approach and swing and the type of balls that they do put into play. With pitchers, we can evaluate overall performance with FIP, K/9, W/9, and various other stats that will be looked through in this series.
I’m going to start off with one of the prospects that is generating tons of excitement in the lower levels of the minors for Astros fans; JD Martinez, also known as Julio Martinez. Martinez was a 20th round pick last year out of Div. II Nova Southeaster University and immediately dominated the Appy League and was promoted where he continued to shine in the NYPL. Martinez has an excellent ability to hit for average and power as he has posted a batting average over .300 in every league he’s played in so far and a top 5 in Slugging Percentage as well.
This season in Lexington, JD Martinez has been of the most impressive hitters in the league. He currently sports a .366/.430/.580 triple slash line that is very impressive. Currently, he is the best in each of those categories in the Sally. According to this article, JD credits playing Div. II baseball for helping him be the type of hitter he is. He says that he struggled hitting breaking balls and change-ups coming out of HS and that he saw a lot of breaking balls in college because the pitchers relied on breaking balls more than Div. I pitchers who had the better fastballs. Take what you want out of that, but it makes some sense. Yes, the breaking balls in Div. II are probably not nearly as good as the breaking balls in Div. I, but it was probably very helpful in helping him pick up on the balls as they leave pitchers hands and the rotation of the ball.
We know from his numbers that he is awfully good at making contact with the ball, but how do those numbers reflect his swing? According to MinorLeagueSplits.com, JD hits 48.7% ground-balls, 28.1% fly-balls, and 22.6% line-drives. He does hit at a few more groundballs than I’d like, but at the lower levels while he’s making adjustments, that’s fine and he could probably get away with it in the majors with that kind of LD rate. His fly-ball rate is a little low for what you would expect from a power hitting type player which is why you don’t see him throwing up HR totals (currently 7) at the rate of Kody Hinze (12), Koby Clemens (15), or Chris Johnson (7, a lot few AB's). I found a video of one swing from him this year. It’s a long video but the swing is at the beginning and it is followed by an interview with him. It takes up less than half the video. It’s pretty much a line drive swing and he creates a lot of leverage with his height and uses it all to put a little loft in his swing. He definitely can generate some power.
He walks at a very solid rate of 9.9% and strikes out at a rate of 16.9%. Those are both pretty good signs of solid plate discipline in the lower levels. Warning flags for strikeout rates come up around at around 20%, so currently he’s a pretty safe bet to have solid plate discipline.
Looking at his numbers, they seem very inflated by a very high BABIP, which currently sits at .421. Last year he finished with at .386, which is probably closer to what it should be for him. We know he shouldn’t post .400+ BABIP because he doesn’t have the Michael Bourn speed, but if he can hit LD at a similar rate, he should be able to post a BABIP close to .400. But even when his stats are neutralized for park and luck, he still has an OPS at .920.
Defensively, last year he played 1B and LF and, according to the unreliable yet only data we have Total Zone, played average defense. This year he has only played RF. But, according to this article, the Astros like him at 1B and haven’t ruled out moving him there even though he has chronic tendonitis in his knees. That same article indicates his defense out in RF hasn’t been very good as he struggles reading the ball off the bat and making good paths to the ball. Although, I think this is probably due to inexperience at the position and should probably improve in time.
As far as promotion is concerned, JD has proved just about all he can prove in Low A Lexington and has warranted a promotion especially since he is playing his age 22 season. As to where, that creates the issue. If the organization wants to maximize his value, he needs to stay in RF. His bat won’t have much to gain in Lancaster besides a spike in his power numbers and maybe cushion his eventual transition to Corpus with slightly better pitching even though it is a weak season this year in the Cal league in terms of overall talent. He could likely handle his own against the better pitching in the Texas League but the OF and 1B are already locked down by Gaston, Steele, Shuck, and Clemens. Personally, I think he needs to go to Lancaster and continue to work on his defense as I’m sure it’s an adventure to learn to track the balls in the air as the wind in Clear Channel Field pushes the balls every which way and the corner OF positions are currently be held down by older prospects with little to no upside and are mostly organizational depth in Freddy Parejo and Brandon Barnes. But, the organization recently signed Lee Cruz and assigned him to Lancaster after the release of Josh Flores instead of promoting JD, so that could be a sign that the organization isn’t as high on JD as his numbers should indicate. But, from the video interview, he seems like a very positive person that should get along with everyone in the clubhouse. His make-up seems positive.