No. 2 prospect Martinez following Encarnación's lead

February 23rd, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Two years ago, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. compared the Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect to “a young Hanley Ramirez.”

At a glance, it made sense. Martinez was a big, powerful kid trying to stay at shortstop, teasing us all with incredible flashes of power you rarely see from that position. Player comparisons always lean towards the grandiose, but Guerrero was pointing in the right direction.

agrees. Well… sort of.

The Blue Jays legend has been in camp this spring, working with the club’s young hitters, and lights up when Martinez’s name is mentioned. Encarnación, who launched 239 home runs with the Blue Jays and authored some of this franchise’s greatest moments, sees the potential for Martinez to be something even greater.

“He has more power than Hanley. There’s more power than Hanley,” Encarnación said. “He just needs to learn his strike zone, but he’s going to get it. To me, he has more talent than Hanley at that age. He’s a great, great player. The good thing is that he likes to listen. He’s making adjustments.”

Martinez is 22 now. He’s grown into his body, looking more like a Major League player than a big kid playing with men. The ball explodes so effortlessly off his bat as Encarnación watches on. It may look like a line drive, but if you glance away, you suddenly hear it smacking off the wall. Everything is hard.

Encarnación has become an incredible resource for these hitters, particularly the young Latin prospects who flock to the Dominican legend. Encarnación was born in La Romana, just 75 miles along the southern coast of the island from Santo Domingo, where Martinez grew up. When Martinez was a teenager, before he signed with Toronto, Encarnación and José Bautista were one of baseball’s most feared duos, bashing the Blue Jays into the postseason.

He’s not in Dunedin to shake hands and make appearances. Encarnación’s passion for the game still vibrates out of him.

“I love it. I love helping young guys and being around those guys right now, I feel great,” Encarnación said. “I’m doing what I like to do. I’m enjoying this moment and being around players like Vladdy, Bo Bichette and [Cavan] Biggio, [George] Springer. I feel good when they ask me questions. That’s what I want to do. That’s why I’m here.”

Encarnación was never the prospect that Martinez is, which is the beauty of Edwin’s story. He showed flashes early in his career, but never truly broke out until 2012 at age 29, when he launched 42 home runs for the Blue Jays. He’s here to remind players that they don’t need to be superstars tomorrow, and with Martinez, that patience is still needed.

Martinez had a dreadful start to 2023, going 5-for-56 (.089) in April. For a young hitter prone to strikeouts, it looked like his prospect shine was about to fall off completely, but then something started to click. He posted an .896 OPS the rest of the way, reaching 28 home runs, and found a new home at second base.

Now comes the hard part. If Martinez has more talent than Hanley Ramirez, like Encarnación says, that puts him in unique company, but it’s not exactly rare. Baseball is littered with incredible talent that only ever flashes. We spend so much time focused on talent alone, but it’s consistency that divides prospects from big league stars.

Forget great moments, who can have great seasons?

“It’s about being selective. That was the key,” Martinez said, via interpreter Hector LeBron. “Looking for a good pitch to hit and putting good contact on it. Being selective was the key to my success and hopefully I can carry that into this year.”

This is Encarnación’s focus now. Martinez can hit baseballs incredible distances. He doesn’t need Encarnación’s help with that, but what made Encarnación great wasn’t just his power, it was his consistency, a remarkable eight consecutive 30-homer seasons.

“He has great power and he is going to keep learning, keep getting better every year,” Encarnación said. “This year, he’s going to have a great year. He has worked hard and he asks me a lot of questions. I’ve been talking to him since last year when he was in Double-A and I went to watch him play. He listens and he wants to learn. He wants to be in the big leagues and that’s what I want, too.”

Prospects will break your heart, but these are the days to dream on them. Encarnación understands this, balancing hope and reality alongside incredible talent. Martinez has miles to go, but he couldn’t ask for a better guide.