2013 Houston Astros Season Preview: Fernando Martinez, Starting Right Fielder?

J. Meric

Polarizing is a great word to describe the former Mets farmboy, but it may also be an understatement. What can the 25-year old do for Houston this season?

Up is apparently down, right is apparently wrong and left is apparently right this spring. So far, I've defended Jonathan Villar, talked about how gritty Robbie Grossman will be and now am becoming a proponent of the continued success of Fernando of the Martinii.

What is going on?

Last spring, there were two camps on the former Mets top prospect who Houston plucked off waiver. One school of thought was extremely impressed with his tools and wanted to give all the at-bats in spring and summer to him. The other school wasn't impressed by tools alone and needed production at the ML level to warrant excitement. No matter how many home runs he hit at OKC, they would not get jazzed about him taking over in right field or playing instead of J.D. Martinez.

Want to guess which camp I was in?

Funny thing happened this winter, as I spent time looking at his numbers. I saw a glimmer of hope. I saw him start to put together those tools into production. I started to get excited.

Then, the Biogenesys thing hit and F-Mart became the only Astro to be linked to the anti-aging clinic. Suddenly, he was back in the cross hairs in a negative way. Now, he has camps for and against him based on how fans feel about PED use, even if he wasn't a confirmed user. His name on a ledger is all those fans need.

At the same time, F-Mart made what looks to be a pretty mature decision not to play for Spain in the World Baseball Classic and instead to stay in camp with Houston. Maybe he did it because his GM called him out publicly and said he might just get cut if he plays, but for whatever reason, F-Mart stayed in camp and has looked good this spring.

The 24-year old seems like a lock to make the 25-man roster this season because he is out of options. He's still a polarizing figure, but now it's for so many different reasons. Could he be the starter in right field? Will he split time with Rick Ankiel there or just be a bench outfielder providing pop as a pinch hitter?

2012 Season

In his most big league experience yet, the former Mets farmhand did pretty much exactly what he'd done in three other brief stints in New York. F-Mart hit .237 with a .300 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage. The 24-year old hit six home runs in 130 plate appearances, but struck out 26 percent of the time and walked just four percent of the time.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons why Fernando of the Martinii didn't get more playing time was a concussion he suffered while in Oklahoma City. He aggravated the condition pretty quickly once he got to Houston, diving for a ball in front of him in right field.

Which is to say there may be some value into looking at his small sample size splits, both before and after the concussion.

If we cull out the time in June when he played, but may have still be suffering from the time off, Martinez's numbers look more positive. From his recall in August through the end of the season, Martinez hit .262/.330/.550 with 13 extra-base hits in 115 plate appearances. That included all six of his home runs. He still struck out 21 percent of the time and walked just five percent, but those numbers are a little more sustainable than looking at his season as a whole.

Like I said, it's a very small sample size. We can't get too excited about it, but it does cast his brief time in the majors in a better light.

2013 Projections

None of the projection systems like F-Mart particularly this year. They all are some what bearish on his playing time and none of them seem to think he can sustain an isolated power average of .229. Heck, none of them thought he could keep that ISO above .200, for that matter.

Bill James was the one most hamstrung by playing time issues. The Jamesian system has F-Mart getting 107 plate appearances and hitting .257/.318/.406 with a strikeout rate of 23 percent and a walk rate of 5.5 percent, complete with three home runs and an ISO of .149.

ZiPS is more optimistic on his playing time, but not much else. ZiPs projects F-Mart to get 439 plate appearances while hitting .241/.299/.408. It also has his walk rate at 5.5 percent and his strikeout rate up at 27 percent with 14 home runs and a .167 ISO.

The Steamer projections are the most optimistic by far, though it only has F-Mart down for 335 plate appearances. In this projection system, F-Mart hits .258/.312/.444 with 12 home runs, a walk rate right around six percent and a strikeout rate at 23 percent. It also has him with an ISO average of .186, highest of all the projection systems. Combined with a positive projection of 1.9 Fielding Runs, Steamer projects F-Mart to be worth 1.6 WAR in 2013.

Finally, Oliver has F-Mart down for the most playing time with 448 plate appearances, but splits the difference on optimism. He hits .240/.299/.411 in this system with 15 home runs, a six percent walk rate, a 27 percent strikeout rate and a .171 ISO average. The defensive projections for F-Mart also aren't good in this system, which is why it projects him only worth 0.6 fWAR.

Conclusion

Those two camps I mentioned above still exist on F-Mart, even though they've fractured down different lines. Houston fans don't have the history with him that they do following J.D. Martinez in the minors, but F-Mart could provide more pop in the outfield for the Astros than J.D.

If he's installed in right field, F-Mart could give the Astros five legitimate players with a shot at hitting 20 home runs. Add him to the list with Ankiel, Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell and Carlos Pena and suddenly, the Astros have their most powerful lineup in six or seven years.

He still won't make much contact and his defense in the outfield is a work in progress. But, if the Astros can get the kind of production out of him they did in August and September, Fernando Martinez could be a big part of this team in 2013.

Then he'd get traded for three prospects...

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