Jason Martin, the Astros' eighth-round draft pick out of Orange Lutheran High School in 2013, has drawn mixed reviews from Astros prospect watchers here at The Crawfish Boxes.
In the TCB staff's prospect rankings, Martin came in 13th, but he dropped seventeen spots in the readers' poll. That seventeen-spot drop tied Brendan McCurry for the second-largest decline among all prospects, behind only Trent Thornton.
Why such a discrepancy between the two polls, particularly when the readers tend to rank prospects more highly, overall, than the writers?
It's no secret that I've been following Martin since high school, and have advocated for him on this very site. Is it possible I was showing some bias here? Had I just talked Martin up enough to the rest of the staff? There are a lot fewer writers than readers; having one inflated score - or a few more if I was able to convince others unwittingly - could have really inflated Martin's score.
The other possibility, of course, is that Martin is a better player than our readers realize.
So which is it?
I wanted to take as unbiased a look as I possibly could, to try and help solve the Jason Martin problem. Below are the results of that look:
Age Relative To League
Martin played the 2015 season as a nineteen-year-old in Single-A Quad Cities, primarily in left field.
That's a pretty good indication of where the Houston Astros see Martin: A teenager playing full-season ball is nothing to sneeze at. But it's also not a magic indicator. In 2015, thirty-two minor leaguers under the age of twenty played in Single-A ball.
But a team is going to challenge prospects it finds intriguing, and that's a mark in Martin's favor.
Of those thirty-two minor leaguers under the age of twenty, it's worth noting that Martin's 116 wRC+ is tied for ninth. It falls just three points below the Nationals' Javier Guerra, currently ranked the #58 prospect in baseball, per MLB.com.
Martin's profile includes a double-digit walk rate. Of the aforementioned thirty-two players, he was one of only seven who accomplished that feat. And of those seven, only Martin, the Rangers' Josh Morgan, and (barely) the Rays' Riley Unroe had strikeout rates below 20%. In fact, Martin's 0.64 BB/K rate ranks behind only Morgan, the Royals' Samir Duenez, and Braves super-prospect Ozhaino Albies.
One of the marks against Martin has been his lack of power. Of course, judging a nineteen-year-old top-of-the-order hitter by power is a debatable move, but let's take a look at the numbers, anyway.
Among the twenty hitters with at least 100 plate appearances in Quad Cities in 2015, Martin's .126 ISO was tied for sixth on the team. He also had eight home runs - second on the team, behind only Jacob Nottingham and tied for thirtieth in the entire Midwest League.
Go back and re-read that. Only twenty-nine players in the Midwest League hit more home runs than Martin. Only six of them were under the age of twenty. And only the Padres' Ruddy Giron was under twenty, hit more home runs than Martin, and had a higher batting average.
How you feel about Jason Martin may boil down to how you feel about his speed. Martin was never considered one of the fastest runners in his draft class, but it's reasonable to expect a center field, top-of-the-order prospect to compile more than the fourteen stolen bases Martin compiled in 2015 - and certainly better than the 48% steal rate he had.
If Martin is going to step forward as a prospect, seeing his speed play up in-game is going to need to be a big factor. After all, in Quad Cities, he played with Bobby Boyd, a well-regarded center field defender who stole forty bases and was caught just twelve times (three fewer than Martin). And while Boyd is three years older than Martin, the comparison was a major factor working against the youngster.
Martin's 6.1 Speed score on Fangraphs puts him sixth on the River Bandits roster - behind a full-time catcher in Alfredo Gonzalez. This is certainly one area where he will need to improve.
That's worth noting: Martin had been considered a center field candidate as a professional, but in 2015 he was moved to left for Boyd, the Astros' 2014 eighth-rounder out of West Virginia University. Boyd is considered at least a plus-center fielder, thanks in large part to his 70-grade speed. That pushed Martin to left field for the River Bandits.
Though not a quintessential corner outfield candidate, Martin has enough skills to perform well there, and even to be a plus-defender, but obviously one would prefer him as a center fielder.
The takeaway, for me, is that fans are likely down on Martin because they see him as an undersized left field candidate. No doubt staff and reader grades would be much closer if Martin was seen as a no-doubt center fielder.
Even if we look at him as a left fielder, though, his burgeoning contact, power, and discipline skills should not be so quickly dismissed. He provides a nice, well-rounded toolset, which would be much better off if his speed were to play up in-game.
And that's the heart of the matter for me: Martin is young enough, and has done well enough in several areas, that writing him off as a prospect seems foolish to me. There are a number of directions in which he could go, but his skills are well-rounded enough that there is a clear path of success in any of them.
Just because he's not what we thought he was going to be, doesn't mean he isn't good at what he actually is.