Looking to the future, the presence of center fielder Leonys Martin on the Texas Rangers roster gives the club an opportunity to solve a number of challenges.
Martin, a Cuban defector signed by the club in 2011, gives Texas the type of potential leadoff hitter, and center fielder coveted in the ever-changing world of Major League baseball.
At a time when power hitters are tough to find, speed, defense and contact hitting are becoming increasingly more important. That's the type of skill set the 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting Martin can bring to the lineup. He can become a table-setter.
If the Rangers are able to re-sign potential free agent Josh Hamilton, Martin could spark a permanent transition of Hamilton to left field. This season, Hamilton has played 54 games in left, 45 in center and one in right. A move to the corner may help Hamilton stay healthier and fresher in the long-term.
But first things first. Martin has to show a sustained ability to play Major League-quality baseball on both offense and defense.
Leonys Martin played for Villa Clara of the Cuban Nationals Series, the highest-ranking regular baseball league in Cuba. The league is comprised of players from every province, including two from Havana. He was also a member of the Cuban National Team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Growing up in Cuba, Martin played shortstop, second base, third base and center field. Martin left his homeland and fled to Mexico in the summer of 2010.
The Rangers signed him last May, giving him a $15.5 million contract that included a $5 million signing bonus.
Martin played at three levels in his first professional season, hitting .295, with four homers and 42 RBIs. He had 302 at-bats in the 73 games he played.
Afterward, Martin joined the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. That's where I first saw him play.
He hit .290 in 31 at-bats over eight games. Included among his hits were two doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBIs. He also stole four bases, while only being caught once.
Frankly, I was disappointed with Martin's fall play. A great deal of excitement and enthusiasm surrounded his signing and I expected a more refined, deeper skill set.
In the seventh inning of his first game in the fall league, Martin hit a home run. I sat up in my seat and took notice. It was an impressive beginning.
I saw every game Martin played that fall, as I was searching for the player the Rangers scouts had discovered.
He took awkward routes to balls in the outfield. He didn't run hard from home to first. His bat lagged at the plate. He didn't show much plate discipline. I felt cheated. I knew the talent was available, but it wasn't being called upon.
I believe Leonys Martin was tired and out of sync. I believe he was dealing with the enormous issues of completing a transition to a new country, a newer brand of baseball and yet another American city to call home, if only for a brief period of time. He had already lived in Mexico. He had already played at Frisco and Round Rock and had been in Surprise in the Arizona League. This was within the span of half a year since his challenging and highly intense defection from Cuba.
This season has been much more rewarding for both Martin and the Rangers. While he suffered a thumb injury that cost him more than five weeks of development time, he returned once again to Triple-A Round Rock and showed what he can do at the plate, on the bases and in center field.
The player development staff of the Rangers has worked hard to bring out the innate ability of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder.
Martin will best be known as a fast runner and a good defender. However, I think he also flashes signs of strength and raw power that could develop into more home runs than one might expect. I think he has the ability to use the barrel of the bat and center pitches well. Martin is basically a line-drive hitter, but new adjustments in his swing could lead to him carrying the ball out of the park.
With the player development staff's work on his swing and baserunning, Martin is making himself into the type of leadoff hitter who can set the table for the Rangers run producers. He has shown an ability to take pitchers deep into counts, working walks and waiting for pitches he can drive. If he continues to show improvement his swing and keeps his focus on patience and getting on base, he can be an asset.
Speed is one of Martin's premier tools. However, he is still learning the nuances and mechanical techniques of basestealing. He is the type of runner who has the ability to steal third as well as second base.
Defensively, Martin will be able to chase down fly balls with good first-step quickness. Once he learns the most efficient routes and becomes accustomed to new ballparks, he should be a better-than-average defender. His arm strength and accuracy are Major League quality. If he can play with total effort and learn to read balls off the bat, while taking the most effective and efficient routes, he can become a highly regarded defender.
I like Leonys Martin's chances of becoming the table-setting leadoff hitter the Rangers projected when they scouted and signed him.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.