Versatile Martinez aiming for Opening Day spot

Veteran Minor Leaguer producing in spring after multiple surgeries

March 4th, 2017

JUPITER, Fla. -- The odds may be long and the margin for error slim as competes for a spot on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster. But watching him this spring would never give any of that away.

He's simply thrilled to be in the conversation.

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Martinez, 28, is easy to spot out among the dozens of players in big league camp. If his slender 6-foot, 6-inch frame doesn't distinguish him, the smile will. He's gregarious and boisterous through just about every portion of his day, realizing that there's no other way to be when playing on borrowed time.

See, six years ago, as Martinez was being prepped for a third surgery on his right knee in as many years, he was informed that this would be it. That knee, said the surgeon, couldn't be operated on again.

It was in that moment that Martinez realized how fleeting his dream could be.

"I thought I'd try one more time, and look, I'm here," Martinez said, as he pointed around the Cardinals' clubhouse. "Being around big league players, being around future Hall of Famers, you have to enjoy the moment. Smile. That's all you have to do. Just smile."

Martinez had much to smile about last year as, after 10 seasons in the Minors, he earned his first big league callup in September. The Royals had traded him to the Cardinals just months earlier.

Martinez gave a strong first impression -- he had seven hits in 16 at-bats with the Cardinals -- and he's continued to draw attention this spring. The Cardinals are getting Martinez looks both in the outfield and at first base, two positions that Martinez worked at during a winter ball stint in Venezuela.

The added versatility would enhance Martinez's chances of sneaking onto the Opening Day roster as a bench player. He also welcomed the chance to return to first because it's a position his father, Carlos Martinez, played during his seven seasons in the Majors.

"Sure enough," Martinez said, "I'm feeling more comfortable there every day."

At the plate, Martinez is seeking to boost his power production. He added about 10 pounds over the winter with the belief that added strength could give him the capacity to drive the ball with more authority. His goal? To elevate more pitches, thereby reducing his ground-ball rate.

Early returns show that he may be onto something. Martinez has three extra-base hits, including two home runs, in 14 Grapefruit League at-bats. This comes after a standout winter ball season in which Martinez hit .310/.377/.458 with five homers and 13 doubles in 54 games.

In his decade toiling in the Minors, Martinez had never hit more than 11 homers in a season.

"I think he takes a lot of pride in being a tough out and being a smart player," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's just been impressive. He's taking great at-bats. He's looking locked in. He's a guy who you can tell just loves playing the game and showing up here every day. That stuff seems to be contagious."