Jose Martinez: Battling His Way Back

St. Louis Cardinals second base prospect Jose Martinez takes the field for the first time in two years after injury and personal tragedy put his promising career on hold.

It seemed the most minor of transactions, a player activation just a week prior to the conclusion of the 2010 Gulf Coast League Cardinals season, yet for Jose Martinez, simply being able to suit up and play baseball again has to be a huge accomplishment.

On Sunday, the second baseman, now 24 years old, was in the lineup, batting second for the GCL Cardinals. It represents the first official game action in over two years for a player first signed by the Cardinals in 2004 and once considered on his way to the majors.

Over the last 24 months, Martinez has endured numerous personal hardships that turned his life upside down and derailed his promising career.

The native of Carabobo, Venezuela last took the field for Double-A Springfield in August 2008. A broken bone in his left foot prematurely ended that season. Martinez had set a career high of 67 RBI in 127 games, though his .253 average and .292 on-base percentage showed a considerable drop from his .300/.339 marks achieved during his Texas League introduction in 2007. It was suggested that Martinez' slide could be explained by him trying to play through a stress fracture.

Over the winter of 2008-2009, The Cardinal Nation dropped Martinez from our number seven-ranked prospect in the system all the way down to number 36. Even so, Martinez was still the highest-ranked second baseman in the Cardinals system.

At the time, Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow was willing to wait for him, telling me this: "Martinez does have power, he does not strike out a lot and he makes contact. There is a place in the game for guys like that who have the exceptional and innate ability with his hands and feet in the middle infield and can make contact and have over-the-fence power.

"So I am not giving up on him. I think he is going to have a bounce-back year next year," predicted Luhnow.

Unfortunately, that bounce-back year has yet to come as personal tragedy and more injury has dogged Martinez ever since.

In February 2009, in Guacara, VZ, a pair of gunmen invaded a Martinez family celebration, killing Jose's father, grandmother and two uncles. Already in spring training camp but unable to play in the field due to shoulder tendinitis, Martinez was placed on the restricted list and immediately headed home.

Once Martinez returned to extended spring training camp last April, he was expected to rejoin Springfield after working back into shape. Instead, his right, throwing shoulder failed him and by late May, he underwent surgery that finished his 2009 season.

Though it was originally hoped Martinez could return this spring, his recovery lagged, extending through spring training and the entire regular season - until now.

"He goes through periods when he is feeling better and he is almost ready and then there is a setback," Luhnow observed last month. "The last time, we were days away from sending him out and then he felt a little uncomfortable… I know at some point, he is going to break through and be back out there with the (Springfield) club."

No longer a young hotshot prospect, Martinez will need to continue to work hard just to get back to where he was in 2007, but the Cardinals are still behind him.

"Jose is a lot older than he was a few years ago when this all started, but he still has a lot of things that are interesting to us," Luhnow noted.

Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations John Vuch spoke for many when he said the following. "It has been an extremely difficult two years for Jose on many levels, so it's nice to see him back on the field. He's worked extremely hard to recover from his injuries, and we hope that he can get his career back on track and put himself back in the mix. He's a good teammate and a good person, and everyone in the organization is pulling for him.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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