Fernando Martinez Facing Make-Or-Break Situation With Houston Astros

By Thom Tsang
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He was No. 20 in 2007, according to Baseball America. Then No. 30 in 2008, an falling to No. 77 in 2009.

By the time it was 2010, Fernando Martinez had seen his prospect stock drop off completely in the bigs.

After a knee injury derailed what would have been his first extended go in in the majors with the New York Mets, the former five-tool prospect just hasn’t been the same professional baseball player, regardless of whether it’s in the majors or minors.

Make-or-break isn’t a phrase you’d normally associate with an athlete at age-24, but for Martinez, that’s the situation he finds himself in with the Houston Astros in  2013.

He’d been a blue chip prospect for so long, and failed so many times, that one more full season without establishing himself as a regular major leaguer would leave him…well, out of options. Martinez is in that spot this spring with the Astros, needing to make it to Opening Day with a spot on the 25-man roster, or else facing the end of the line with one of the only franchises in the league that can take a chance on him.

The team is committed too, ready to name the former top prospect as their starting right fielder headed into the season, leaving only Jimmy Paredes behind him, which represents just about as long of as leash as you can have these days.

Martinez’s performance this spring has been mixed thus far.

One the one hand, he’s showing the biggest vice in his career – plate discipline – has not truly changed, as the outfielder has stuck out three times over eleven at-bats, without drawing a single walk over the team’s spring schedule. On the other hand, he has also gotten a couple of extra-base hits, including a homer in his Grapefruit League debut.

However, those plate numbers won’t be the final determining factor to whether the Astros put him in for Opening Day or not.

The most important thing that Martinez can show the Astros these days is the he’s healthy to go. Martinez had already taken a big step by playing a career-high 131 games with Houston in 2012, and was an above replacement value player (0.7 fWAR) for the first time in his professional career.

No, there won’t be the expectations of him fulfilling the destiny of a five-tool guy, especially not when his walk rate is sitting as a sub-par 4.7 percent thus far. That said, even if Martinez’s knees are a little bit wonky these days, he did show power last season, with six homers in 130 at-bats.

That would put the 24-year old on a 28 home run pace over 600 at-bats, and the Astros are hoping to find out whether a full-time opportunity will allow him to pull it off.

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