With Monday’s signing of Brayan Pena to be the new reserve catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals for the next two seasons, the future of Yadier Molina’s current back up, Tony Cruz, seemed sealed. It was clear that the 29-year-old would be leaving the only organization he has known since being drafted in the 26th round in 2007.
The only question that remained was whether the Cards could get anything in return by trading Cruz before Wednesday’s midnight EST deadline for arbitration-eligible players to be offered a contract for the 2016 season.
The answer was received on Wednesday when Cruz was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for 19-year-old shortstop Jose Martinez.
Martinez, a native of Venezuela, has played three professional seasons, including much of the last two summers with Burlington of the Appalachian League, a competitor of the Cardinals’ affiliate in Johnson City, an advanced placement for a player that young.
Martinez, a switch-hitter, is a contact hitter with a career line of .247/.305/.316/.620 in 665 at-bats over 185 games. More growth with the bat will be required to progress, but his 2015 strikeout rate was relatively low at 11.5 percent.
With average speed, Martinez is not a burner on the bases, with 18 steals in 33 career attempts. I don’t have a feel for his defense other than a 2014 report from Nathaniel Stoltz of Fangraphs, who notes Martinez better profiles as a second baseman, with “soft hands, sound instincts, and average arm”.
The Cardinal Nation’s Derek Shore spoke with Burlington manager Scott Thorman, who gave him the following positive assessment of Martinez.
"Jose is an exciting middle infielder with excellent defensive ability, instincts and has a good arm," the manager said. "He is a maturing switch hitter that gives quality at-bats and can bunt and do a lot of things to help his team. He is a baseball player with flair for getting the big hit and has shown the ability to drive the ball from both sides of the plate.
"Jose has the ability and leadership skills to stay at shortstop but is versatile enough to move around the infield and be an asset wherever needed," Thorman concluded.
After two seasons in the Appy League, it would seem Martinez’ likely initial 2016 destination as a Cardinal will be extended spring training, followed by a move up to short-season Class-A State College. Other shortstops already in the system in short-season ball include Gulf Coast League MVP Allen Cordoba, Leobaldo Pina and arguably the top shortstop prospect in the system, Edmundo Sosa. At this point, Martinez does not appear to be among the top 40-50 prospects in the Cardinals system, but bears watching.
The trade takes St. Louis' 40-man roster down to 36 players.
With Cruz' departure, St. Louis has six remaining arbitration-eligible players - Matt Adams, Peter Bourjos, Brandon Moss, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Steve Cishek. The latter is most likely to be non-tendered with the decisions coming later today.
For more roster detail
Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system from the Dominican Summer League to St. Louis in one graphical view with all transactions, free agents and more, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.
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