Yesterday might have been the final nail in the coffin that is the Mets’s 2011 season. In addition losing 6-5 to the Braves, Jose Reyes left the game early with a pulled hamstring and Daniel Murphy tore his MCL and will miss the rest of the season. Reyes will return at some point, but losing Murphy, who has been one of the team’s most productive players despite some mental miscues, puts an even bigger dent in the Mets already slim playoff hopes. It might be time to start looking toward 2012, and in that regard, the Mets should recall Fernando Martinez.
When teams falls out of contention, it is common for them to use August and September to evaluate how some of their younger talent performs at the Major League level. Dillon Gee certainly benefited from his time in the Majors last season, and has been a fixture in the rotation all of this season. However, due to unfortunate injuries to Jenrry Mejia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and others, the Amazins are a little thin on top talent to bring up to the big leagues. Martinez’s value has declined in the past few years because he has failed to produce during his limited run in the Majors (.183/.250/.290 with two dingers in 145 plate appearances) and his never-ending slew of injuries. However, still just 22 (he’ll be 23 in October), F-Mart still has plenty to prove.
Martinez received his only consistent playing time with the Mets in 2009, when he was just 20 years old. He received an even 100 plate appearances that season and hit .176/.242/.275 with a homer. F-Mart had a cup of coffee in 2010 and then returned in 2011 where he also played sporadically, recording five hits, including two doubles and a homer, in 23 PAs. Based on his Major League body of work, it’s hard to judge Martinez.
Due to injuries, Martinez has only received 226 plate appearances at Buffalo this season, where he is batting .260/.333/.430 with eight homers. He’s accumulated 703 triple-A plate appearances, about one full season’s worth in the big leagues, during his minor league career, and hit .265/.328/.471 with 28 home runs. He’s only walked 45 times while fanning 150 during these plate appearances, but it’s clear he has power and his triple-A walk rate has improved between 2009 and 2011, increasing from 5.8% to 7.5%. The 2011 Major League average walk rate is 8.1%, so if Martinez becomes a little more patient, which can still happen given his age, he could at least be average at drawing walks.
So F-Mart is no longer the top prospect he was hyped to be when the Mets signed him as a sixteen year old. However, that doesn’t mean he still can’t be an effective everyday player. Unless the Mets acquire someone via trade or free agency, the Opening Day right field starter will likely come down to Lucas Duda or F-Mart (Nieunwenhuis might be in the mix as well but I see him competing for the center field job). Duda is getting plenty of at bats now and Martinez will be back with the team in September, but why wait? Why not have both Duda and Martinez in the lineup, close to everyday, at the same time for the next two months in order to see how each one performs against the same pitchers? With Murphy out, Duda could start at first base and Martinez in right field (neither one particularly excels on defense, so the judgement would be based primarily on offense).
The Mets would need to make a roster move (assuming Reyes doesn’t land on the disabled list) in order to accommodate Martinez, which would mean either DFAing Nick Evans (again) or optioning Jason Pridie. I don’t see the Mets making either one of these moves, but ask yourself this: out of Evans, Pridie and Martinez, which one has the higher ceiling? Evans has raked at triple-A while stumbling as a bench player in the Majors, and after a hot start Pridie is now batting just .234/.301/.362 at the age of 27. I have to believe Martinez has the most potential of that group.
Martinez will be recalled in September, but with the Mets nine games out in the Wild Card, there is no reason to wait. If Martinez struggles badly in two month’s worth of plate appearances, the Mets might need to have him play at triple-A for another season or more seriously question his role in the organization. If he thrives, or at least performs admirably, then he could get a legitimate shot at the starting right field job next spring. He might not be the top prospect he once was, but Martinez still deserves an opportunity to prove his worth.