Is Fernando Martinez Underrated?

At, Michael Salfino argues that 21-year-old Fernando Martinez, who missed Baseball America’s mid-season Top 100 list is currently being underrated.  Ted Berg (Michael’s editor) thinks that its fair to dock Martinez as a prospect because of his inability to stay healthy, but not based on his results.

Salfino picks out four other high-profile position players (23 yo Desmond Jennings – TB, 21-Lonnie Chisenhall, 22-Dustin Ackley – SEA, 20-Aaron Hicks – MIN) who made BA’s mid-season top 25 and argues that Martinez is a better hitter than all four.

Martinez is the youngest of the group (by six days over Chisenhall).  As the table below shows, he has the highest extra-base hit rate, which is good.  He also has the lowest walk rate and highest strikeout rate of the quartet.

Martinez AAA 243 62 15 0 12 17 59 2 2 8 272 .255 .322 .465 6.25 21.69 9.93
Desmond Jennings AAA 308 86 21 5 3 31 56 1 4 3 347 .279 .350 .409 8.93 16.14 8.36
Lonnie Chisenhall AA 337 91 15 2 12 27 49 4 0 9 377 .270 .337 .433 7.16 13.00 7.69
Dustin Ackley AA 289 76 21 4 2 55 41 1 0 5 350 .263 .389 .384 15.71 11.71 7.71
AAA 69 19 4 1 1 12 11 2 0 2 85 .275 .388 .406 14.12 12.94 7.06
Total 358 95 25 5 3 67 52 3 0 7 435 .265 .389 .388 15.40 11.95 7.59
Aaron Hicks A 337 91 21 5 5 68 96 3 4 0 520 .270 .390 .407 13.08 18.46 5.96

Martinez vs. Jennings
This is the most similar comparison because both players are outfielders in the AAA International League.  Jennings brings something to the table that Martinez doesn’t: speed.  His 27 stolen bases are one off the IL lead.  Martinez has but one stolen base to his credit all year.  Jennings, who is two years older than Martinez, is basically Jacoby Ellsbury, who in his age 23 season hit .298/.360/.380 in 87 games for Pawtucket in the same IL that Martinez and Jennings call home.  Like Jennings, Ellsbury showed little power (2 HR) and lots of speed (33 of 39 SB).  In his two full seasons in 2008 and 2009, Ellsbury was worth 3.9 and 2.7 WAR to the Red Sox.   He was the 18th most valuable OF in baseball in 2008, but slipped to 34th in 2009, and has been worth nothing this year thanks to injuries.  When healthy, Ellsbury has been above average in one year and star caliber in another.  Jennings, who’s shown a touch more power, should reach that level.  He has a more diverse skill set than Martinez, whose bat will have to carry him.
Salfino writes, “The Jennings-Martinez cognitive dissonance especially is, as best as I can tell, completely a product of the level of love the surging Rays are given relative to the floundering Mets.”

That’s too far for me.  Preferring Jennings  to Martinez, is to take the premium defender with a different skill set, whose speed is an asset on both sides of the ball, over the guy destined for a corner.

Martinez vs. Chisenhall
Salfino: But Chisenhall is four days older and has a lower OPS at a lower level (Double-A).
Yup.  That about covers it for me.

Martinez vs. Ackley
Salfino: Ackley is nearly a year older than Martinez and is slugging just .400 in the Pacific Coast League.
That’s just too simple.  First, Ackley has played a whopping 21 games at AAA.  To be fair though, his extra-base hit rate in AAA is consistent with his AA rate.  Ackley, like Jennings, has other skills in his favor.  Despite a dreadful April (.147/.289/.227) he’s rebounded to hit his way out of AA and reach AAA.  He’s owned the strike zone with more walks than strike outs.  That kind of plate discipline is extraordinarily valuable.  Also, like Jennings, Ackley has a defensive value over Martinez.  The Mariners have tried him at second base, and while the reviews of his work there have been mixed at best, he is learning a new position.  Even if he’s not a gold glover at second, his production, even if it doesn’t reach Martinez’s level, would be more valuable coming from the 2B spot.  I don’t get comparing their hitting lines and writing off Ackley, playing the more difficult and valuable position, as the inferior prospect.  That doesn’t work for me.

Martinez vs. Hicks
Salfino: Hicks is “toolsy” and walks but is only a year younger than Martinez and barely hitting better in the the Class A Midwest League.

Yes.  But Hicks has a chance to be a plus centerfielder.  Martinez will not.

I think Salfino’s argument is right: Martinez is the best of the bunch as a hitter.  However, other guys bring more overall value and projection because they play better defense or provide some offense at more valuable positions (Ackley).    Almost all of Martinez’s value is going to need to be in the bat.  I see Martinez as a little above average on the corners early in his career, but losing range as he fills out.

Bottom line
Fernando Martinez probably is underrated at this point, but how underrated is a fascinating debate.  In prospect land, newer is better and Martinez was just rushed through the system at a scorching pace, so it feels like he’s been around forever, despite the fact he’s only 21.

Other good reading
Howard Medgal writes about Brooklyn Cyclones RF Cory Vaughn who’s been crushing the ball.
Vaughn told Megdal that

“I’m starting to see the curveball and the slider a little bit more,”
Vaughn said as we stood in the Cyclones’ dugout on the night of a game
last month. “I’m starting to see the spin.”

Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally writes about Jimmy Fuller. Commenting on the lefty that

“While I don’t see Fuller as a future member of a big league rotation, he does have a path to New York in a relief role if things break correctly.”

There are 2 comments

  1. mark4212

    Great post Toby.

    And I agree with you and with Salfino as well. I do agree that Martinez is now under-rated, while i agree with you that he’s also always been a little over rated.

    It will all be moot if he doesn’t stay healthy over the coarse of a full season. But he is still extrememly young, and has had success at AAA at 20 before the injury last year, and is starting to get back into a groove it seems after this years setback.

  2. fonzy888

    You nailed it in the ‘Bottom Line’. He’s pretty clearly underrated. Not being in BA’s top-100 is all you need to know to figure that out (not that people in the know even value BA rankings, but they’re probably a good gauge for what the general public thinks). The only question is whether he’s a little underrated or a lot, and only time will tell.

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