Last winter, the KC Royals scouting staff must have hit the independent leagues hard looking for talent. Most Kansas City Royals fans, by now, have heard of minor-league first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor. His heroic name, paired with his home runs, make him hard to miss. But, the scouting staff also discovered Jose Martinez playing independent ball last winter. He’s hitting .371 in 274 plate appearances in the Pacific Coast League.
He’d be leading the PCL in hitting if he had a few more at bats.
So, who is Jose Martinez?
He’s a 27-year-old outfielder from Venezeula, whose father, Carlos Martinez, played for the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, and the Angels for parts of seven seasons. He’s 6’7″, 210 pounds, and started his career signing with the White Sox as an international free agent in 2006.
Martinez then moved to the Atlanta system in 2013, but the Braves gave up on him in 2014 despite hitting .319/.375/.444 at High A Lynchburg. He moved on to play for the Frontier League’s Rockford Aviators, where he hit .337/.388/.481 in a little over 100 at bats. He continued his strong play in the Venezuelan Winter League where he hit .305/.357/.463. Now, Jose Martinez is slashing .371/.443/.549 in Omaha this season.
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This apparent breakthrough comes after he spent four years bouncing between High A and AA for the White Sox, Braves, and the Frontier League Aviators (AA).
Of course, the siren song with both Balbino Fuenmayor and Jose Martinez is that the KC Royals might have found late-blooming gems that can help at the major league level. Both are over-aged for “prospects”, with Fuenmayor 25 and Martinez just turning 27 on July 25.
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However, their performance has to buy them at least a look from the Kansas City Royals brain trust. The front office made the unusual move to sign Fuenmayor for 2016 before he could become a AAA free agent. With Jose Martinez, you have to expect the KC Royals will call him up in September.
Just how good can Jose Martinez really be? Before 2014, he had only hit over .300 at one stop in his career (in about half a season at High A Winston-Salem in 2011). He doesn’t really hit for power (49 career home runs over 9 minor league seasons), and he’s not a speed guy (66 stolen bases and 34 caught stealing in his MiLB career). If Martinez is going to play in the big leagues, he’s going to have to hit for high average—which he’s only really done since 2014.
Former Kansas City Royals general manager Allard Baird once allowed late-blooming Blue Jays All-Star Jose Bautista to slip through his fingers. In 2004, Baird traded Bautista in a three way deal that netted the KC Royals first baseman Justin Huber. Bautista broke through in 2010 with 54 home runs at age 29 for the Blue Jays, and has slammed another 158 home runs (and counting) in the five seasons since. While no one really saw Joey Bats coming, Dayton Moore can’t let the same thing happen again with Fuenmayor and Martinez.
An unexpected find could go a long way toward repairing the hit “The Process” absorbed when Moore traded away five arms to load up for an October run this season.