Could this Braves prospect be their next 30-30 outfielder?

May 13th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ATLANTA -- Every club would like to find the next Ronald Acuña Jr. But it’s rare to find players who have the elite power-speed tool that makes the Braves' right fielder so special.

The Braves are actually fortunate to have both Acuña and Michael Harris in the same lineup. They stand as two of the nine players who have hit 15 or more homers while stealing 20 or more bases both of the past two seasons. The Guardians (Andrés Giménez and José Ramírez) are the only other team with two players in this group.

Projecting who might be the next power-speed player to gain a spot in Atlanta’s lineup isn’t easy. But Triple-A Gwinnett’s J.P. Martínez could fit the description. The 28-year-old outfielder has hit .283 with three homers, a .441 slugging percentage and 12 stolen bases (18 attempts) in 34 games with Gwinnett.

None of these early-season numbers are jaw dropping. But the potential is there for Martínez, who hit 14 homers, stole 38 bases in 42 attempts and produced a .961 OPS in 77 games with Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers’ organization last year.

Martínez made his MLB debut last summer, but he produced just a .575 OPS in 48 plate appearances for Texas. He never found consistent success against big league pitchers, but the Braves were willing to trade for him once a roster crunch made him available this winter.

Needing a 40-man roster spot for David Robertson, the Rangers were willing to part ways with Martínez, a Cuban national who didn’t start his professional career in the United States until he was 22. Martínez ranked as one of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects in 2019, but his star has fallen over the past few years.

With Adam Duvall able to play all three outfield positions, the Braves likely won’t be digging into their crop of Minor League outfielders, barring an injury.

Martínez’s defensive versatility strengthens his resume. Jarred Kelenic, Acuña and Duvall would all be capable of filling in for Harris in center field if necessary. But Harris’ arrival in 2022 was influenced by the fact that playing center on an everyday basis was taking its toll on Duvall. It also seems unlikely the Braves would put extra stress on Acuña’s legs by having him playing center on a daily basis.

Regardless of the specific needs, Martínez has the versatility to fill whatever outfield needs the Braves might encounter this year.

Double-A Mississippi: continues to construct what has the makings to be an incredible story. The 25-year-old left-hander entered Monday with a 0.71 ERA and 20 strikeouts through his first 12 2/3 innings this season. He has issued five walks while boasting a K/9 rate of 14.21, an increase from his 13.80 K/9 last season across three levels in the Minors.

Harris was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern University. He sent videos to many evaluators, including longtime Atlanta bullpen catcher Alan Butts. Butts’ suggestion to sign Harris looks like a pretty good one.

High-A Rome: E.J. Exposito has opened some eyes while hitting eight homers with a 1.042 OPS through his first 96 plate appearances. He has below-average speed, but he has shown some baserunning skills while tallying 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. This fast start could be a product of a 23-year-old taking advantage of younger competition. A promotion to Double-A Mississippi could better indicate his prospect value.

Single-A Augusta: Mitch Farris has struck out 37 batters while allowing just 14 free passes in 22 2/3 innings this season. The 23-year-old left-hander was taken out of Wingate University in the 14th round of last summer’s MLB Draft. He didn’t issue any walks while tossing five scoreless innings against Myrtle Beach on Thursday. That was just his second start of the season.