There's just something about the Rangers and finding value in lower rounds of the MLB Draft. From now-Cubs prospect CJ Edwards, drafted in the 48th round, to now-Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, drafted in the 17th round, lower-round Rangers draft choices have sometimes drastically exceeded expectations. Nick Martinez is well on his way to adding his name to the list of Rangers draft success stories.
The right-hander was drafted in 2011 out of Fordham University in the 18th round, where he played mainly second base. While in Texas's system, Martinez has been a full-time pitcher, and he's moved steadily up the minor league levels. He made his full-season debut in 2012 with low-A Hickory, making 20 starts across 31 appearances, to the tune of a cumulative 4.82 ERA. Despite that high number, his overall results were not discouraging for a former second baseman in his first full season. Martinez started 2013 with high-A Myrtle Beach, solidifying his role as a starting pitcher with 21 starts, including a complete game where he only allowed one run on three hits. He was promoted to double-A Frisco in August, where he made four starts and one seven-inning, no-hit appearance in relief of a rehabbing Nick Tepesch.
Martinez brings a good mix of pitches and velocity, featuring a four-seam fastball with good command down in the zone that averages 91-94 MPH and touches 96, as well as a developing slider at 85-88, a changeup at 77-82, and an occasional curveball. As a starter, he struck out a solid 20.95 percent of the batters he faced, and he doesn't issue many free passes, either, only allowing 45 walks in 152.2 innings last year. According to MLBfarm.com, Martinez induced an above-average number of groundballs in 2013, with 53.6% of balls put in play against him remaining on the turf. This, plus his ability to strike batters out and maturation in his pitching, could give him a place in a MLB rotation as soon as 2015, his age 24 season.
One could compare Martinez to current Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn. Lynn relies on a fastball averaging 92.4 MPH and his repertoire of secondary pitches evokes that of Martinez. Lynn's development and success proves that a pitcher like Martinez can be a third or fourth starter in a major league rotation, provided that he develops his slider into more of a strikeout pitch and retains his fastball command.
Martinez should start the season in the Frisco rotation after his five successful 2013 games with the double-A squad, and it would not be unreasonable for him to spend all of the 2014 season with the RoughRiders. Spending the season pitching to advanced batters will reveal what still needs to be polished in the righty's skillset. Martinez will also need to prove that he can maintain his run-preventing groundball ways, and limit the number of fly balls and line drives he gives up.
For this 18th-round former second baseman, steady contributions to a major league rotation may not be far from reach, and his talents would be valuable in any organization.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freeelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.
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