Every team has that prospect. The guy who will be the savior of the franchise, who possesses umpteen tools and will make an immediate impact on the team. For many years, that guy for the Mets has been Fernando Martinez. But just over a decade ago, that guy was Alex Escobar.
First, let me just say that I hope this comparison does not prove to be true. However, after looking at some of the facts, I’m sorry to say that there are some similarities. This may be a little hard to swallow, but hear me out.
For those who remember, Escobar signed with the Mets way back in 1995, prior to turning 17 years of age. For years, the Venezuelan worked his way through New York’s minor league system. Fans heard about it and eagerly awaited his arrival. Escobar teased with success (1998 minor league stats: .310/.393/.584 with 27 homers and 49 steals…at age 19) and caused fans to worry when he missed nearly the entire 1999 season due to injury. Finally, he made his long awaited debut on May 8, 2001 at the age of 22, amidst much fanfare. In fact, T.J. Quinn of the Daily News wrote “Escobar is that rare jewel in an organization, a genuine five-tool player who is projected to be an All-Star.”
His first stint in the majors lasted just six games, but he would return in June (again to much gushing, only to be sent down again and reemerge as a September call-up. With the Mets, Escobar recorded 10 hits in 53 plate appearances, hitting three home runs and striking out 19 times. He wouldn’t even have a chance to redeem himself, as the former top prospect was sent to the Cleveland Indians in part of the deal for Roberto Alomar. Escobar promptly injured himself again and played parts of two seasons with Cleveland before being plucked from the waiver wire by the White Sox, for whom he never played a major league game. Alex resurfaced in the majors in 2006 with the Nationals, but hasn’t played a big league game since, although he signed a minor league deal with the Rockies this offseason. For his career, the former top prospect has hit just .258/.328/.415 with 13 long balls and five stolen bases.
Flash forward to 2005, when the Mets signed Fernando Martinez just before he turned 17. He’s worked his way up through the minors, flashing some of his talent while being hampered by a seemingly never ending slew of injuries. Finally, he made his Amazin debut on May 26, 2009 at 20 years old. Again, there was hype. Said Dan Graziano of MLB FanHouse, “Martinez has been a hot name in the Mets’ organization for several years now — the one name for which every team asks and the Mets refuse to consider in trade talks. Still just 20 years old, Martinez has dazzled scouts with his hitting ability and raw athleticism at every minor-league level”
FMart had exactly 100 PA in 2009 and hit just .176/.242/.275 with one homer. He returned in August of 2010 but did not fare much better, recording just three hits in 22 PA. After being shutdown this winter with arthritis, Martinez declared himself 100% and is slated to begin the year at Triple A Buffalo.
The team’s top prospect according to Baseball America in 2008 and 2009 (Escobar was tops in 2000 and 2001), Martinez fell to eighth in the latest ranking and is no longer projected as a starter in the 2014 Opening Day lineup. The slippage is deserved, as FMart hasn’t really put together any spectacular minor league numbers. For his minor league career, Martinez is hitting just .277/.344/.447 with 42 homers. Only once has he had more than 400 PA in a season (2008) and last season he finally showed some power, smacking 12 long balls in 287 PA at Buffalo.
Martinez’s main issue throughout his career has been health; he’s never been able to get going during any stretch, and the starting/stopping surely has impacted his statistics. However, staying healthy is an important part of being a major leaguer-nobody will want a player who is on the disabled list every couple of months. His injuries and lack of production have caused his value to drop.
So is Fernando Martinez the next Alex Escobar? They’ve both been heralded prospects, hampered by injuries and we’ve heard about them seemingly forever because they were both signed at such a young age. Maybe I’m being biased, but I don’t want to believe that FMart will be a bust. Will he be traded? That is also hard to say given that his value has slipped, but I have to believe Sandy Alderson would consider making a move if he believes it would benefit the organization, especially since he has no connection to Martinez.
It is also important to remember that FMart is still only 22, he just seems older because he’s been around for awhile. The Mets outfield is set to start the year, and will remain intact unless Beltran gets traded. Even though Martinez has struggled in the majors, he needs big league experience and several, consecutive starts if he’s going to adjust. If Beltran gets traded this off season, call up Martinez. When there is a hole in the outfield next year (assuming Beltran leaves and Pagan stays), give Martinez every opportunity to win the starting job. If he can’t put it together or becomes injured again, then it might be time to cut ties, but if he has all the raw talent and athleticism that scouts say he does, FMart still might be able to be a fixture in New York.