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Cuban prospect Martinez adjusting to life in U.S.

Highly touted outfielder signed with Texas in April, making strides in Arizona Fall League
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez's goal has not changed after one season of professional baseball in the United States.

Martinez, the Rangers' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, said when he signed in April that he wanted to be in the Major Leagues in three years. The former star from the Cuban National Series is one year closer to fulfilling that dream.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez's goal has not changed after one season of professional baseball in the United States.

Martinez, the Rangers' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, said when he signed in April that he wanted to be in the Major Leagues in three years. The former star from the Cuban National Series is one year closer to fulfilling that dream.

"The goal has not changed since my first year," Martinez said. "I'm not one to go back on my word. Two more years. Next year, I am going to come better prepared and ready to take the next step and the next challenge in my career."

Martinez spoke through a translator on Tuesday at the Rangers' Spring Training facility, one day after hitting for the cycle while playing for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League. He is already 11-for-32 with two doubles, a triple, a home run and four stolen bases over eight games for the Saguaros.

Playing in the Arizona Fall League should be a challenge for any young player whose first season was in Class A Short-Season Spokane in the Northwest League. But Martinez is not just another inexperienced prospect.

Before coming to the United States, Martinez played in the Cuban Serie Nacional -- the highest professional level in a country passionate about baseball -- and hit .333 with a .469 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage over 61 games. He had six home runs and 24 stolen bases while playing center field.

The Rangers signed him last April for a $2.8 million signing bonus. That was money originally earmarked for Shohei Ohtani, who ended up signing with the Angels.

Video: Rangers sign international prospect Martinez

Martinez played in 60 games for Spokane and hit .252 with 49 runs, 10 doubles, six triples, eight home runs and 11 stolen bases over 234 at-bats. Rangers assistant farm director Paul Kruger said the most important accomplisment was to get Martinez comfortable living and working in the United States.

"You are moving cultures, going to a culture that is completely different than Cuba, completely different than the Dominican Republic," Kruger said. "Can he continue to be comfortable? The biggest thing we have learned is it's not what they do on the field, but what goes into becoming a part of this American culture."

There have been several prominent players who have made successful transitions from Cuba to the Major Leagues, including White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias (who came up with the Red Sox) and Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Yasiel Puig had a rough road but is now playing in his second World Series with the Dodgers.

Others, like Royals outfielder Jorge Soler, Indians outfielder Leonys Martin and D-backs outfielder Yasmany Tomas, have had mixed success, while Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo received a $72.5 million contract in 2014 but has spent the past three seasons in Triple-A.

The toughest part may be just the decision to leave Cuba. Martinez left behind his mother, father and sister in his hometown of Guantanamo when he came to the United States a year ago.

"It was very tough having to leave my family, my friends, my culture, my comfort zone," Martinez said. "But I knew I had to do it, because the dream was to play baseball at the Major League level. I had to talk to my family and let them know that I was doing this for a reason, for me but also for them. I just took that first step and here I am."

Martinez said he knew it would not be an easy transition. Cuba has a long and successful amateur baseball history and the National Series is a highly competitive league. But it is different than playing even in Class A or the Arizona Fall League.

"They are very different leagues," Martinez said. "Over here you have a lot more younger players with more talent. Over there you have older crafty players and baseball is not the same. Over here is more structured; people know how to play the game and they just play the game. The speed of the game here is a lot quicker. The guys here have speed. They can fly."

Martinez has much to work on here in Arizona. A left-handed hitter, he batted just .207 against lefties this season and admitted they were much tougher than the ones he faced in Cuba. Defensively he needs to work on his jumps and routes in center. He faces tough competition for the title of future Rangers center fielder. Leody Taveras is the Rangers' No. 1 Minor League prospect and Bubba Thompson is No. 9 after being their top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft.

Video: Top Prospects: Julio Pablo Martinez, OF, Rangers

"I always knew it was going to be hard and now I know first-hand," Martinez said. "It is just as hard as I thought it would be. A lot of things you have to work on, a lot of matchups you've got to see. Most important, you have to make adjustments. But I think I fit in well here."

The Rangers believe he has already made the biggest adjustment by just getting here.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

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