Jeremy Martinez could have been a relatively high draft pick coming out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei in 2013. Instead, Martinez told MLB personnel he was heading to USC. The Cubs took a flyer with a 37th round pick that failed. Martinez became a Trojan.
Three years later, Martinez finally heard his name called Friday afternoon when the junior catcher was selected in the fourth round, No. 136 overall, by the St. Louis Cardinals organization — the first of three Trojans to be selected on the second day of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Martinez became a fixture in the middle of the Trojans’ lineup, beginning almost as soon as he stepped foot on campus. He batted fifth in the lineup to open the season his freshman year, but was moved up to the No. 3 spot in the order — most often reserved for a team’s best hitter — before the end of the season. He remained there for the next two and a half years.
A terrific defender with great catch and throw ability behind the plate, Martinez would figured to be a three-year starter at catcher, but instead his first two seasons saw him split time at first base and designated hitter while being the backup catcher. That was less to do with Martinez’s defensive abilities and much more to do with the Trojans’ other backstop, Garrett Stubbs, who won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top catcher last year.
This season, Martinez showcased his defensive abilities. While catching all but two games, he allowed four passed balls and committed three errors for a .994 fielding percentage. He was even better at throwing runners out, nabbing 44 percent of would-be basestealers. An even more accurate representation of his throwing ability, he nailed 25 of the 46 runners with a right-handed pitcher on the mound.
But what made Martinez a fourth round selection was his bat.
Thoughout his career, Martinez was a solid line-drive hitter, capable of spraying the ball to all fields, but he batted .297 and .296 in his first two years. Respectable numbers? Sure. But they didn’t quite live up to the high school All-American status attached to Martinez’s profile. The problem was Martinez wasn’t driving the baseball. He had just two homers in his first two seasons.
During last summer and fall, Martinez revamped his swing to be able to create more backspin on the ball and more lift from his swings. It was a calculated gamble to make Martinez more of an offensive weapon and a more desirable prospect. He struggled in the Cape Cod League last summer and couldn’t get going in the fall, but head coach Dan Hubbs told him to stick with the process.
This spring, Martinez was an All-Pac-12 player after finishing third in the Pac-12 with a .376 average while hitting six home runs and a team-high 18 doubles. Suddenly, balls that had been down in the gaps before were traveling too deep for outfielders to be able to cut off. Martinez drove in 42 runs with a team-best .563 slugging percentage. Most impressive of his stats was his strikeout rate. Martinez struck out just 12 times in 213 at bats, good for No. 8 toughest batter to strikeout in the nation. He actually only struck out 43 times in his USC career. Two of his teammates had more strikeouts just this season.
Martinez became the first Trojan selected by the Cardinals organization since catcher/pitcher Robert Stock was a second-round pick in 2009. It’s not shocking that the Cardinals picked a Trojan this year. The Cardinals’ first-year scouting director is former USC star reliever and assistant coach Randy Flores.
The bonus slot value of the No. 136 pick is $421,600, but the team and the player can negotiate for a different number. Last season, Arizona State closer Ryan Burr was drafted No. 136 and got full slot value of $403,000 (slot values change each year).