This outfielder is turning heads early in Gwinnett

April 15th, 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.

HOUSTON -- J.P. Martínez’s bid for an Opening Day roster spot quickly dissipated as he was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett with a few weeks remaining in big league camp. But the center fielder’s hot start against International League pitching has kept him on the Braves’ radar.

Martínez has a .340 batting average with two homers and a 1.001 OPS through his first 13 games (50 at-bats) for Gwinnett. The 28-year-old outfielder has been successful with seven of his nine stolen-base attempts. He is showing the potential the Braves envisioned when they acquired him from the Rangers in exchange for Minor League right-hander Tyler Owens on Jan. 26.

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.

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 he hit 14 homers, stole 38 bases in 42 attempts and produced a .961 OPS in 77 games with Triple-A Round Rock.

With Adam Duvall serving as the primary backup for Jarred Kelenic, Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves likely won’t be digging into their crop of Minor League outfielders, barring an injury.

Martínez’s ability to play each of the three outfield spots strengthens his resume. 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. You also have to question whether you’d want to subject Acuña’s legs to playing center on a daily basis.

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

Double-A Mississippi
has quickly been reminded that potential doesn’t earn you anything as you are acquainting yourself with the professional game. Just one year removed from his junior season at the University of Florida, the right-hander is enduring growing pains. He is 0-2 with a 12.86 ERA through his first two starts. He has surrendered 15 hits and issued five walks, while recording just seven strikeouts.

Waldrep, who ranks as Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, was taken in the first round of last summer’s MLB Draft. He totaled 29 1/3 innings over eight starts across four levels in the Minors in August and September, so he is still getting used to the professional environment. His early struggles shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

High-A Rome
is showing how much a prospect can improve after being given a full year to adjust to the professional level. The 2022 first-round pick produced a 4.72 ERA over 21 starts for Rome and Single-A Augusta last year. He has allowed just two runs (one earned) and has recorded 16 strikeouts in 12 innings through his first two starts this year. He is two years younger than Waldrep and he was a high school Draft selection. But his early success this season indicates how quickly things can turn for talented prospects.

Single-A Augusta
It’s going to be easy to keep an eye on the 6-foot-8 , who received an overslot bonus of $747,500 after being taken in the fourth round of last summer’s Draft. The 19-year-old hurler has allowed three runs (two earned) while totaling 9 2/3 innings through his first two starts for the GreenJackets.