One thing that really bothers me is when people give scouting reports on prospects they have never seen. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they speak so confidently and make such bold predictions about a prospect when they have no idea about the player’s skill set. Therefore, this post is a rarity because I don’t normally go on scouting trips. However, I was in Florida this past summer and caught a couple of Florida State League games. One of the guys I worked with had a radar gun, so one day after work we made the 40-minute drive from St. Petersburg to McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Carlos Martinez was making his FSL debut after being promoted from low A Quad Cities. Martinez was left off Baseball America’s preseason top 100 and Kevin Goldstein’s top 101 prospect lists, but he made Keith Law’s list at #52. Law boldly predicted that Martinez could pass Shelby Miller as the Cardinals’ best pitching prospect, due to better raw stuff. Based on what I saw, Law’s prediction could turn out to be true. Keep in mind, this is based off one performance and shouldn’t be viewed as gospel.
Martinez was 93-99mph with his fastball from a ¾ arm slot, sitting mostly at 95-98, while maintaining his velocity and throwing 97 in the 6th inning. His fastball was straight as an arrow and he showed good control, but his command was lacking. His best off-speed pitch of the day was his changeup, which sat at 86-88. It had great fade away from lefties, but he was erratic with his control of it. Martinez also threw two breaking balls. The slider was 84-86, but was acting like a flat cutter. He abandoned it after the first couple innings because it wasn’t doing much except hanging in the middle of the plate. His curveball was his most inconsistent pitch of the day, but he threw a few that made Bradenton’s hitters look stupid. The pitch sat from 78-81 and while some were more sweeping than biting, others would dive out of the zone and result in weak swings and misses. Overall, Martinez pitched 6 innings, giving up two earned on four hits and four walks while striking out seven.
Martinez isn’t your typical hulking pitching prospect, as he stands at 6 feet 160 pounds. Since he is only twenty years old, it stands to reason that his frame will continue to fill out as he matures. Martinez repeated his mechanics incredibly well throughout the start, which is rare for prospects that are still teenagers (he was still nineteen when I saw him). The ability to maintain his mechanics will be very important for Martinez, since his delivery involves an exaggerated step back and he throws with maximum effort.
Overall, I came away being very impressed with Martinez. His ability to maintain his velocity throughout the start, despite the fact that he wasn’t throwing an easy 97 a la Matt More, bodes well for his chances to stick in the rotation. Normally guys who throw that hard with maximum effort end up as late inning power relievers. Aside from his plus fastball, both his changeup and curveball have the potential to be plus pitches in the majors. Martinez needs to work on harnessing his command – he walked 30 people in 46 innings at Palm Beach, and struggled in his remaining nine starts throughout the rest of the season. However, with his arsenal people will have a hard time hitting Martinez if he is throwing quality strikes. If he can refine his curveball and changeup, Martinez will fly through the upper levels of the Cardinals’ system. If Martinez can reach his ceiling, the Cardinals could have one of the most imposing rotations in baseball in 2013, with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Shelby Miller and Martinez. In order to get there though, Martinez will need to continue to do a good job of repeating his delivery, while working on refining and commanding his off-speed pitches.