Fernando Martinez Back in Binghamton

The most recognizable name in the organization returns to Binghamton this season after his 2007 season was cut short by injury. For Fernando, 2008 offers new opportunity to bring himself closer to the star many believe he will be sooner than later. Inside Pitch caught up with Fernando at the close of the season opening series.

Somehow, Fernando Martinez has made his way back to the Binghamton Mets. Four months ago, no one was sure he'd even still be in the New York Mets organization.

The 19-year-old top prospect's name was included in the New York papers every morning over the winter in trade talks between the Mets and Twins over Johan Santana. Though Martinez spent the off-season at home in the Dominican Republic, he says he had packed his bags mentally in preparation for a potential trade.

"My sister lives in New York, a couple friends, everyday they read the paper and somebody called me, 'Hey, get ready, you might be going to Minnesota,'" Martinez says. "I said, 'Wow, I'm ready.'"

Of course, the Mets were able to land Santana without surrendering Martinez, keeping the jewel of the farm system but, with Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey out the door, little in the way of near-ready talent behind him.

As Martinez entered spring training—with an invitation to big league camp for a second straight season, no less—still questions remained about his future.

After two hand injuries in his first two seasons, will he finally be able to put together a full professional campaign? If, as it seemed likely, he is sent back to the Double-A B-Mets, where he was limited to just 60 games in 2007, how will he fare in the cold this time, after hitting just .214 last April? Or what if he astounds in spring training? Will the Mets even think about taking Martinez north, or moving him to New Orleans with the Zephyrs' roster so seemingly bare?

As it turned out, Martinez did astound. In 47 at-bats over 18 games, he hit .373 and struck out just seven times, all the while learning from the Mets' veterans.

"I talked to everybody over there," Martinez says. "Jose Reyes, my good friend, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Moises Alou too. I am just so grateful for the opportunity."

That experience, combined with the Mets determination to hold on to him, even if it meant missing out on the best pitcher in baseball, has made Martinez grateful—but not yet ready for anything above Double-A. With unfinished business after last season, Martinez still has things to prove with Binghamton.

B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras, in his second season with the team and Fernando, has liked what he has seen from his center fielder in the early-going.

"He looks stronger, he's a year older," Oliveras says. "You can tell that, based on what I saw in spring training in the big league games, he's got a lot of confidence, he feels like he belongs. He needs to stay healthy. I keep telling him not to set any goals, stay healthy and just keep improving in all aspects of the game."

Statistically, Martinez has gotten off to another slow start in the leadoff spot, where he bats to receive the most at-bats possible, though he may move to the middle of the lineup later in his career. (Similarly, though Martinez may profile better as a corner outfielder, the Mets want him to play center for now to keep his options open.) He has just four hits in 13 at-bats through the B-Mets first four games, all singles. That, however, might be due more to hard luck than poor swings.

In a doubleheader with the visiting Trenton Thunder on April 5 at NYSEG Stadium, Martinez went just 1-for-6, but made solid contact every time up, flying out to deep center twice. In his final at-bat of the day, the left-handed hitting Martinez waited on a high first-pitch fastball and drove it to left field for a base hit.

He's getting more comfortable, right now he's trying to do a little too much," Oliveras says. "Just to show you what kind of a head he's got, without anybody telling him, he started going away [be]cause they're pitching him away. When it's cold the ball doesn't carry, all I'm looking at is the way he's making contact, a short, closed and compact swing."

B-Mets hitting coach Luis Natera has been working with Martinez on keeping his swing level by throwing soft toss to him around the knees while Martinez swings with a shorter, lighter bat. Still, most of what Martinez needs to work on, such as going to the plate with a plan, comes with experience more than drills.

"Fernando's a young kid with a lot of talent, just a little pitch here and there, you just have to check that he doesn't come up; he needs to stay down to be successful," Natera says. "Right now he can go as far as he wants to."

In the field, Martinez showed his inexperience against Trenton on April 6, allowing a shallow liner to get past him for two runs after he dove to make the catch and then tripped getting up. It was ruled a triple.

"If he catches the ball, nobody says it was an error," Oliveras said. "He's learning, he will know that on that particular play he's got to keep the ball in front of him, but that's reaction. I'd rather see him make errors like that early in his career; in time he's going to get better."

Martinez also learned this spring how careful he needs to be off the field when he was, as he explains it, misquoted in the New York media as saying he wants to be in the big leagues this season.

"I didn't say exactly that, I said, 'Hopefully this year I get ready and you never know what happens,'" Martinez says.

"I went looking for him and I said 'Be careful what you say,'" Oliveras adds. "He says, 'Mako, I didn't mean to say that. What I was trying to say was that I'm going to play hard and I'm going to work hard to see if I can get up there for September.'"

In the scheme of things, and of how Orwellian the New York media can be, Martinez's alleged misquoting was of little consequence. The truth is, if Martinez can shake the injuries and put together a solid full season—even if he does struggle in the early cold again—the Mets will be hard-pressed not to bring him to Shea Stadium in 2008, instead of letting him debut with Citi Field 2009.

And after all, as Oliveras looks at it, there can be concern when a player is always healthy, as well.

"I don't call him injury prone, they're just freak injuries," he says. "It's not like he wants to get hurt, stuff like that happens. He plays so hard—guys that play with such enthusiasm and force, they're going to get hurt. A guy that doesn't get hurt, they don't give you their 100 percent."


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nSomehow, Fernando Martinez has made his way back to the Binghamton Mets. Four months ago, no one was sure he'd even still be in the New York Mets organization.
\r\n
\r\nThe 19-year-old top prospect's name was included in the New York papers every morning over the winter in trade talks between the Mets and Twins over Johan Santana. Though Martinez spent the off-season at home in the Dominican Republic, he says he had packed his bags mentally in preparation for a potential trade.
\r\n
\r\n\"My sister lives in New York, a couple friends, everyday they read the paper and somebody called me, 'Hey, get ready, you might be going to Minnesota,'\" Martinez says. \"I said, 'Wow, I'm ready.'\"
\r\n
\r\nOf course, the Mets were able to land Santana without surrendering Martinez, keeping the jewel of the farm system but, with Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey out the door, little in the way of near-ready talent behind him.
\r\n
\r\nAs Martinez entered spring training—with an invitation to big league camp for a second straight season, no less—still questions remained about his future.
\r\n
\r\nAfter two hand injuries in his first two seasons, will he finally be able to put together a full professional campaign? If, as it seemed likely, he is sent back to the Double-A B-Mets, where he was limited to just 60 games in 2007, how will he fare in the cold this time, after hitting just .214 last April? Or what if he astounds in spring training? Will the Mets even think about taking Martinez north, or moving him to New Orleans with the Zephyrs' roster so seemingly bare?
\r\n
\r\nAs it turned out, Martinez did astound. In 47 at-bats over 18 games, he hit .373 and struck out just seven times, all the while learning from the Mets' veterans.
\r\n
\r\n\"I talked to everybody over there,\" Martinez says. \"Jose Reyes, my good friend, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Moises Alou too. I am just so grateful for the opportunity.\"
\r\n
\r\nThat experience, combined with the Mets determination to hold on to him, even if it meant missing out on the best pitcher in baseball, has made Martinez grateful—but not yet ready for anything above Double-A. With unfinished business after last season, Martinez still has things to prove with Binghamton.
\r\n
\r\nB-Mets manager Mako Oliveras, in his second season with the team and Fernando, has liked what he has seen from his center fielder in the early-going.
\r\n
\r\n\"He looks stronger, he's a year older,\" Oliveras says. \"You can tell that, based on what I saw in spring training in the big league games, he's got a lot of confidence, he feels like he belongs. He needs to stay healthy. I keep telling him not to set any goals, stay healthy and just keep improving in all aspects of the game.\"
\r\n
\r\nStatistically, Martinez has gotten off to another slow start in the leadoff spot, where he bats to receive the most at-bats possible, though he may move to the middle of the lineup later in his career. (Similarly, though Martinez may profile better as a corner outfielder, the Mets want him to play center for now to keep his options open.) He has just four hits in 13 at-bats through the B-Mets first four games, all singles. That, however, might be due more to hard luck than poor swings.
\r\n
\r\nIn a doubleheader with the visiting Trenton Thunder on April 5 at NYSEG Stadium, Martinez went just 1-for-6, but made solid contact every time up, flying out to deep center twice. In his final at-bat of the day, the left-handed hitting Martinez waited on a high first-pitch fastball and drove it to left field for a base hit.
\r\n
\r\nHe's getting more comfortable, right now he's trying to do a little too much,\" Oliveras says. \"Just to show you what kind of a head he's got, without anybody telling him, he started going away [be]cause they're pitching him away. When it's cold the ball doesn't carry, all I'm looking at is the way he's making contact, a short, closed and compact swing.\"
\r\n
\r\nB-Mets hitting coach Luis Natera has been working with Martinez on keeping his swing level by throwing soft toss to him around the knees while Martinez swings with a shorter, lighter bat. Still, most of what Martinez needs to work on, such as going to the plate with a plan, comes with experience more than drills.
\r\n
\r\n\"Fernando's a young kid with a lot of talent, just a little pitch here and there, you just have to check that he doesn't come up; he needs to stay down to be successful,\" Natera says. \"Right now he can go as far as he wants to.\"
\r\n
\r\nIn the field, Martinez showed his inexperience against Trenton on April 6, allowing a shallow liner to get past him for two runs after he dove to make the catch and then tripped getting up. It was ruled a triple.
\r\n
\r\n\"If he catches the ball, nobody says it was an error,\" Oliveras said. \"He's learning, he will know that on that particular play he's got to keep the ball in front of him, but that's reaction. I'd rather see him make errors like that early in his career; in time he's going to get better.\"
\r\n
\r\nMartinez also learned this spring how careful he needs to be off the field when he was, as he explains it, misquoted in the New York media as saying he wants to be in the big leagues this season.
\r\n
\r\n\"I didn't say exactly that, I said, 'Hopefully this year I get ready and you never know what happens,'\" Martinez says.
\r\n
\r\n\"I went looking for him and I said 'Be careful what you say,'\" Oliveras adds. \"He says, 'Mako, I didn't mean to say that. What I was trying to say was that I'm going to play hard and I'm going to work hard to see if I can get up there for September.'\"
\r\n
\r\nIn the scheme of things, and of how Orwellian the New York media can be, Martinez's alleged misquoting was of little consequence. The truth is, if Martinez can shake the injuries and put together a solid full season—even if he does struggle in the early cold again—the Mets will be hard-pressed not to bring him to Shea Stadium in 2008, instead of letting him debut with Citi Field 2009.
\r\n
\r\nAnd after all, as Oliveras looks at it, there can be concern when a player is always healthy, as well.
\r\n
\r\n\"I don't call him injury prone, they're just freak injuries,\" he says. \"It's not like he wants to get hurt, stuff like that happens. He plays so hard—guys that play with such enthusiasm and force, they're going to get hurt. A guy that doesn't get hurt, they don't give you their 100 percent.\"
\r\n
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