Marti had played on national teams in Cuba since at least 1997 before escaping in June, 2005 to Mexico. He then moved to the USA, where he played a handful of games with a couple of independent teams before making a celebrated appearance at the Cardinals Minor League Spring Training camp this past March.
The Cardinals thought as a Cuban, Marti was eligible to sign, but learned he had to go through the draft instead. This was due to the fact that he had established residency in Florida and was no longer considered a foreigner.
While multiple Cuban sites list Marti's age is 32 (DOB 9/3/74), both Marti and the Cardinals assert he is four years younger. One Cardinals executive told me with a straight face that since it is the date on Marti's driver's license, it is good enough for him.
The 6'1", 215 pounder began the 2006 season in June with Palm Beach, where he put up a nice .282/.351/.494 line in 20 games. Marti was quickly promoted to Double-A Springfield, where he drew raves with a number of long home runs before falling into a batting slump. He ended with six home runs in 132 at-bats, but hit just .227 and slugging 100 points lower than in Springfield. Marti also fanned a whopping 41 times in the Texas League.
This fall, with only 217 minor league at-bats to-date, Marti was assigned to the Arizona Fall League' Peoria Saguaros simply to get more work in. There, he was selected to the AFL's first annual Futures Game, much like an All-Star Game. Marti scored the only run for his squad.
Overall though, Marti missed a week of AFL action with a sore left knee, the result of being plunked by an enemy pitch. Now back in the line-up, the outfielder is batting .319/.360/.536 with nine extra-base hits among his 22 total safeties.
The strikeouts also continue, with his 20 one off the team lead. The three home runs are best on the Saguaros, and his 37 total bases are good for a tie for second.
I had already interviewed every one of the seven Cardinals prospects competing in the AFL at that time, but couldn't find Marti. So, I asked shortstop Brendan Ryan. His reply, "Yeah, I know where he is. He is in the cages. He never, ever stops working."
Sure enough, with no other human anywhere in the area, I discovered Marti was facing the pitching machine in the cages over and over and over. When he ran out of balls, he collected another bucket-full and started again, moving further back each time.
Waiting patiently to talk with him gave me an unusually good opportunity to watch his sweet swing. Whether Marti will ever start to go the other way remains to be seen, but he asserted to me that is already in his repertoire.
In this exclusive interview, Amaury Casanas Marti discusses his work ethic more than anything else. His English is actually very good but his answers are often purposely vague, further compounding to the intrigue that surrounds this Cuban defector.
Here are four shots of Marti's swing.
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