Prospect Countdown #4 – Leonys Martin
It’s never easy to become a Major League Baseball player. Even for myself, as a Caucasian male born into middle-class America, given a myriad of opportunities for training and coaching, I was told from a young age that the odds of making it to the major leagues is slim. It certainly is not any easier for a young ballplayer from Cuba, regardless of his level of talent. This was no less true for Leonys Martin.
Even the very capability to hope to achieve that dream did not come naturally to Martin. It was not until he played for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego that his eyes were opened to the dream of playing in the MLB. Now, he finds himself as a member of the back-to-back American League champion Texas Rangers with a chance to make the Opening Day roster in the premium position of center field.
Beyond his incredible background, Leonys Martin brings a valuable skill set to the Texas Rangers. He is 6’2”, 190 pounds, and will be age 24 at the start of the 2012 season. According to Mike Daly, director of international scouting for the Rangers, “We feel like he’s a plus defender in center field. He can throw, he can run and he’s a line drive-type hitter with a knowledge of the strike zone. He can put the ball in the gap. We feel like he can hit, get on base and really defend in center field.” Martin’s potential is to be this franchise’s leadoff hitter and center fielder for years to come. He features the speed, glove, and arm necessary to roam the spacious center field at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He displays the plate discipline to get on base at an effective rate that is desirable from a leadoff hitter. His ability to make contact may be his most questionable tool, but he possesses enough power to be a threat to reach extra bases.
Martin fits the profile of prospects that the Rangers have thrived on pursuing in recent years as they have built the foundation of this championship-caliber team from the ground up – athletic, skilled, middle-of-the-field impact players. As with most Cuban players, it may take some time for him to develop and achieve his potential. The Rangers are doing their part to fast-track Martin’s readiness for the big leagues, even making special efforts to give him one-on-one coaching with Gary Pettis to solidify his baserunning and defensive skills.
It may be unrealistic to see him starting 2012 as the Rangers center fielder. In an interview with the Ben & Skin show on ESPN Dallas radio, Jon Daniels himself said “Leonys is going to have to prove to us in Spring Training that he’s ready.” The more likely scenario in 2012 is for Martin to start the year in AAA, and put some more stateside at-bats under his belt to complete his preparation, with the intention of joining the big-league roster during the season.
The Rangers took a calculated risk in signing Martin to a 5-year deal worth $15.5 million, and he has only continued to move closer to being a contributing at the big league level since that time. Even if he is not yet ready to make an instant impact in Arlington, that would be news to Martin. As he said – “In Spring Training, I will show them that what they did for me was not in vain,” he said. “The investment and the time was worth it. We will get another chance for a World Series, and I’ll show them I am worth it and that everything was worth it.”
For Martin, “everything” means enduring a life growing up in Cuba, defecting from his country leaving his 2-year old daughter behind, and chasing a dream that always seemed out of reach. And now, he is poised to make the last steps that will vindicate it all.