Top 50 Prospects #4 - Eddy Martinez-Esteve

When it comes to Eddy Martinez-Esteve, all you ever hear about is his defense, or lack thereof. That the buzz is rarely about his offense should be taken as a sign of how good it is that it can be taken for granted. But if all you're doing with EME is weighing the offensive gifts versus the supposed defensive liabilities, you're truly missing the key as to whether or not EME will be the next big thing or another position player disappointment in the Giants farm system.

Date of Birth: 07/14/1983 Position: OF Height: 6'2" Weight: 215 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd Round (#70 Overall) of the 2004 Draft
2005 Stats
San Jose - High A .313 .427 .524 .951 479 89 150 44 3 17 94 89 82 4 2

If you’ve been paying attention to Giants prospects, then you’ve heard about Eddy Martinez-Esteve, also known as EME, and his reputation for poor defense.  And yes, it’s true, he is a poor defender.  But something else is true; his bat is that damned good.

There are very few ways to really put it.  EME’s offensive ability is spectacular.  He’s got a fast, natural swing.  He’s got a short motion and quick hands.  He makes great contact, striking out only 82 times in 479 at bats.  Even better is his batting eye, and he took 89 walks on the year (yes, more walks than strikeouts).  He can hit to all fields, and has power to the gaps and down the lines.  He hit 17 home runs and 44 doubles, the most doubles in the system, and he did that all while recovering from labrum surgery.  As a right hander, he has no significant split issues between right handed and left handed pitchers.

Okay, I’ll put it even simpler.  He’s the best hitter in the Giants system since Will Clark.  He might be better.

So, yea, there really aren’t any questions about his hitting ability.  But there are definitely other questions.

The biggest, and certainly the most publicized, question has to do with his defense.  Some of the sites that like to exaggerate and print witty things say his only future is as a DH, and things like that have only made the questions swirl around him in a way comparable only to a certain other left fielder that plays at the highest level in the Giants system.  That’s natural.  Here’s the thing: It’s the wrong question to be asking about him.

But we’ll answer it anyway.

Yea, the defense is bad.  Out in left field, EME displays none of the reaction time he does on pitches, and lumbers to get to balls, taking bad routes far too often.  Once he gets the ball, he had poor strength in 2004, before labrum surgery.  The strength he showed in 2005 was practically non-existent after the surgery, but it’s safe to assume it’ll get stronger as he heals.  But it’s also safe to assume it’ll top out at less than its already poor pre-strength surgery.

But is it DH bad?  No.  The best comparison to use is Manny Ramirez.  Anyone who has seen the recently over-exposed Boston Red Sox knows that Ramirez is a butcher on defense.  This guy took a music player out to the field once.  But not only does Ramirez still find a way to play in the field because of his incredible bat, but he does it in a league that has a DH.  EME is a Ramirez level defender in left field.  He does have the potential to be a Ramirez type bat as well, though.  But that doesn’t mean a position change might not happen.  And that has to do with the right question to be asking about EME.

The right question is about his health.

That has a lot to do with his defense, actually.  EME’s range has been clipped since suffering a hamstring injury in college.  There’s that torn labrum that was repaired shortly before the 2005 season.  With that, he didn’t play in the field until late June in 2005.  Lucky for him, the California league had a full-time DH.  In AA and AAA, he can only take advantage of DH time when playing for a team affiliated with an American League franchise, which will be about a third of the time.  Oh, and EME missed the post-season with a foot injury that has only been described as ‘not serious.’

That’s a ton of injury history for a kid who won’t turn 23 until next July.  And that’s a much more serious worry than EME’s defense.  His bat will find him a place to play if he can play.  His health is what might actually keep him from playing.  To that end, a position change to first base might benefit him.  While most people might take this to be a reflection of his defense, it’s not.  EME will almost certainly be a liability wherever he plays.  A move from left to first clears up a crowded farm system outfield to a much less certain position, where only the mercurial Travis Ishikawa is a prospect at the higher levels.  It also protects EME’s newly fragile shoulder from intense defensive use, not to mention his previous hamstring injury.

But that move, while widely rumored, is not set in stone.  Also in question is where EME will start 2006.  His natural progression should land him at AA, but his bat is AAA ready and a move to Fresno would keep him closer to Giants trainers in California and make a move to first not conflict with Ishikawa, who is not nearly ready for AAA yet.  Adding to this intrigue is that EME was not one of the Giants non-roster invites to major league Spring Training camp, while other less developed prospects like Clay Timpner and Brian Horwitz were.

So that’s what there is to know about Eddy Martinez-Esteve.  The only certainty for 2006 is that when he’s healthy enough to play, he will be one of the most dangerous hitters in whichever league he plays in.  But don’t let the defensive bashing get to you.  His bat is so damned good that it doesn’t matter.  Just keep an eye on his health.

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