DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays fans have been spoiled with top prospects lately.
Splitting his year between Low-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver, the then-19-year-old Martinez led the Blue Jays’ system with 28 home runs alongside an .895 OPS over 98 games. The product of Santo Domingo -- capital of the Dominican Republic -- noticed the game moving faster around him as he advanced, but his bat made plenty of noise and did it ahead of schedule.
“My power and my strength, it’s there,” Martinez said Tuesday through club interpreter Hector Lebron. “I think I’m going to get better with that, too, and I’ll work harder and harder every day. I think the power is going to get even better than now. That comes from God and I was born with that. Hopefully you will see it’s going to get better.”
Now 20, Martinez is still developing in real time, game to game and week to week. His 6-foot-1 frame has filled out well, earning praise around camp, and he has a noticeable confidence. That, as much as the eye-popping power, is what the Blue Jays believe in.
“The performance speaks for itself, but the gains he made in maturity, professionalism and his routines was really impressive,” said director of player development Joe Sclafani. “Compared to a couple of years prior, he’s really starting to figure it out and knows what works for him. He’s focused on a daily basis and doing everything with intent, which has been awesome to see. The ball just sounds different off his bat. He’s incredibly gifted.”
There’s no perfect prospect, of course, and one of the knocks on Martinez through his power surge was a high strikeout rate, but that approach improved when you compare the beginning of his 2021 season to the end. He’s quick to mention game experience as the biggest change for him, recognizing how pitchers attack him not just the first time they see him, but later in that game or weeks later when they face one another again.
Martinez’s defense is a work in progress as he continues to develop his fundamentals and footwork, but his throwing arm is plenty strong for the left side of the diamond and he’s expected to continue splitting time between shortstop and third base in 2022.
“When I talk about my defense, people might not know but I put a lot of emphasis on that,” Martinez said. “I’ve been working very hard. I really think that, at this point, I’m a lot better defender than I was a year or two ago. I want to continue to work very hard on my defense.”
Even if his defense is passable, Martinez has the potential to be an exit velocity monster and a legitimate power threat in the heart of an MLB order. Opening the season with the challenge of Double-A is possible, but for now, there’s plenty of value to extract from the next month-plus in Dunedin at the club’s new facility. As the Blue Jays track batted-ball data in their cages, Martinez is often near the top, and he has embraced the data as a way to check himself.
“It’s been a great help, all of the technology we have here,” Martinez said. “For example, sometimes you think you’re doing things the right way, but when you actually see it, you’re not. That tells you right there that you need to get better and you need to work harder on whatever part of the game it is. I’m very grateful that we have all of that technology here.”
Now come the years where Martinez has the opportunity to prove he’s the real deal. That starts with letting his natural power simply do its own thing instead of chasing it or trying to pull the ball -- which happened at times in 2021, but to an extent that’s understandable for a teenager in a power surge. If he keeps his momentum rolling in this direction, though, an already powerful Blue Jays lineup will soon have another young star with a big bat on the cusp.