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Roughridgers Preview: Leonys Martin

By Or Moyal, TXA 21 Sports
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FRISCO (CBSDFW.COM) – The Frisco Roughriders are preparing for the Tulsa Drillers Saturday night on TXA 21.  To better help you prepare for the game, we lobbed a few questions at Jason Cole of Lonestardugout.com, who doubles as the Roughriders’ TV color commentator. He gave us some background on the Rangers’ newest prospect: Centerfielder Leonys Martin.

Give us a little background on Martin. What kind of player does he profile as?

Martin defected from Cuba after he played for his country in the FISU World University Championships in Taiwan last summer. There, he competed against Team USA and got to hit against players like UCLA’s Gerrit Cole, who may be the most talented pitcher in this year’s MLB Draft. As a 21-year-old in 2009, he was a reserve outfielder for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.

When Martin defected from Cuba, he eventually established residency in Mexico and recently signed a five-year, $15.5 million major league contract with the Rangers. It means he goes directly to the 40-man roster but has all of his usual options, so he doesn’t need to be rushed to the majors.

Martin played in games at extended spring training for about two weeks, and he has now appeared in 13 games with Double-A Frisco. It’s still early, but the returns so far have been promising.

The 23-year-old profiles as an above-average defender in center field and a top-of-the-order hitter. One of the Rangers’ bigger holes as a team is that they don’t have a legitimate leadoff hitter, and Martin could ultimately be that guy. With that said, his hit tool is a bit of a question mark and it’s something he will have to answer in the majors. But he profiles as about an average hitter with excellent plate discipline and average power. So far, he is putting the bat on the ball, with six walks and only two strikeouts. In the field, Martin shows plus arm strength and good range.

In talking to scouts, the biggest negative I’ve heard about Martin’s overall game so far is that he isn’t a total burner on the base paths. His speed is a tick above average, and he clearly has good base stealing instincts, but he isn’t quite Brett Gardner out there.

Still, if he can play good defense, get on base and steal a few bases in the majors, the Rangers will be plenty happy. He doesn’t profile to be a superstar, but he could be a very nice upgrade and a fine all-around player.

If he were part of this year’s draft class, where would he profile to be chosen?

It’s hard to say, in large part because I’m not totally familiar with all of this year’s draft class. But I’d have to think he’d be up there. While Martin may not have any elite tools, they are solid across the board––he can do a little bit of everything. His polish is one of the better things about him.

Even though he’s 23 (older than almost anyone in this year’s draft), he is able to succeed immediately at Double-A because of his experience playing in the highest level of baseball in Cuba. In watching Martin play, it’s very obvious that he has played baseball at a high level before. Baseball America’s John Manuel has written that Martin batted .311/.492/.491 with his Cuban club in ’08-’09, leading the league with 78 walks and 17 steals in the 90-game season.

What’s the likelihood he gets called up before the end of this season?

I think there’s probably a good chance that he at least gets called up in September, after the minor league season ends. He’s already a member of the 40-man roster and he has already been optioned to the minors, so it wouldn’t hurt anything if he were getting a little major league experience––even if he doesn’t play.

I think the jury is still out on whether Martin will see any meaningful action with the Rangers this season. I’d think, at the very least, he’ll be competing for the everyday center field job in spring training next year. But it may not happen until next season, barring injuries.

I do think he could be in Triple-A within the next month. He is batting over .300, showing some power, working some walks, and not swinging and missing so far with Frisco. He could probably handle, fit in, and benefit from being around and playing against the more experienced Triple-A players.

Is Martin the Rangers’ best position prospect right now?

It’s hard to say, but I think he’s in the argument right now. The three players that I’d consider to be ‘in the argument’ are Martin, Myrtle Beach third baseman Mike Olt, and Hickory shortstop Jurickson Profar. All three of those guys would probably rank in the top seven overall prospects in the system.

Jason Cole writes for Lonestardugout.com and is one of the premier sources for information on Rangers prospects. You can also hear his voice on TXA 21’s coverage of Frisco Roughriders Saturday home games, where he serves as the team’s color commentator.

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