Name: Luis Martinez
DOB: April 3, 1985
He came into the system without much fanfare as a 12th-round pick but did all the things required to make the Padres believe he could be a prospect to watch in the coming seasons.
"When I first saw Luis I thought, ‘Wow, this is a catcher's body right here," former Eugene Emeralds hitting coach and current AZL Padres manager Jose Flores said. "This sticks out by just the way he looks.'
"I saw him early on and liked him from the very beginning. I did know he was going to have to come a long way on both sides of the game, offensively and defensively. You can only go so far on physical appearance.
After beginning the year on a tear in short-season Eugene with a .324 average, Martinez went through some subtle changes, working on his balance at the dish and altering his swing plane to gain more consistency over the long-term and a touch more lift.
The backstop was able to see the ball better with his new stance, opening up so he could see the break of the ball more clearly, and it led to better pitch selection, but his bat wasn't quite used to the timing.
Martinez found himself called up to Fort Wayne when the plan was to keep him in Eugene and send Mitch Canham up but a groin injury to Canham gave Martinez the nod. It might have been several weeks too soon for the move, as he finished hitting .231 over 24 games while still working on a more consistent approach at the plate.
What he did, however, was provide solid defense while calling a consistent game.
An extremely strong player, Martinez should generate double-digit homer totals with maturity but his swing will be more conducive to line drives and doubles-type power.
"He has learned to take what the pitcher gives him and he stays to the opposite field," former Fort Wayne hitting coach and current AZL hitting coach Bob Skube said. "He hits the ball hard and hits it into the right-centerfield gap. He has learned how to be a good situational hitter and he has some pop."
"His discipline at the plate has been right up there with (Jesus) Lopez. He has made huge strides."
He has an interesting trigger mechanism where he hauls the bat on his shoulder and places his weight on his front foot before shifting all of his momentum back and arcing forward when he swings. It generates good explosion but requires a tad more timing, making him susceptible to off-speed pitches.
He will become too aggressive with runners on base, swinging at pitches he would normally lay off. There was an anxious feeling with men lining the bags and he seemed to fidget just a little more, trying to make a play and over-swinging.
A relentless worker, Martinez has the type of makeup the Padres adore. He always finds time to work on whatever part of his game that needs it, staying after or coming early to get the necessary coaching.
"Seeing him in the Instructional League – he was a totally different player," said Flores. "He looks aggressive. He looked confident. He gained so much momentum behind the plate, throwing runners out and agile back there. He looked like an athlete.
"He has worked hard. The only way you can get there is to work. In the two months he was up (in Fort Wayne) – a completely different player."
Martinez also showed his mettle defensively, despite really just beginning his assimilation to catcher. The 2007 season marked just his fourth as a backstop.
"Our pitchers go out and are comfortable with him behind the plate," fellow catcher Aeden McQueary said of Martinez, "not just with his ability but also because he knows the game."
He improved throughout the year blocking balls. Rather than inching towards a ball in the dirt, Martinez fell back, allowing it to have a softer landing against his chest so it does not scoot far away. He also picked up the pitchout technique – stepping towards second base rather than allowing the pitchout to meet him behind the bag, gaining 10 feet and creating a quicker, shorter throw.
Where he did not need help was commanding the pitching staff. Martinez was honest with his staff, telling them what was working and what wasn't. His demeanor put the pitcher at ease, resulting in a foundation based on trust. His pitch sequencing was also commendable, as he was rarely being shaken off – aiding a pitcher's rhythm.
"He is very verbal," pitcher Mat Latos said. "He helps you out when you are on the mound. You don't want a catcher that just sits there with his glove up if you lack confidence or are having a bad outing.
"He is very verbal and boosts confidence when you need it. He is like a wall behind the plate. Nothing gets by him. He is solid."
"He has to be one of our bright spots in the whole organization – being a catcher and displaying his ability to be a young hitter and doing what he has done in Instructs and throughout the whole season in Fort Wayne," Skube said.
His catch and throw ability also made strides. He tossed out 5-of-18 runners in Eugene and 8-of-31 in Low-A Fort Wayne, good for 26.5 percent. That number should rise, as frequently it was the pitcher's slow delivery that allowed the theft. He has a strong, accurate arm, getting the ball to second in 1.85-1.9 seconds routinely.
Like most catchers, Martinez lacks any semblance of speed. He is a base-to-base runner that gets by on hustle. He will take the extra base on a sleeping defender and has smart instincts.
"He can really throw and catch and has only been playing for four years," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "I think he will hit enough too. He may not be an everyday guy but will be solid."
ETA: Martinez has a chance to be a very good catcher with complimentary offensive and defensive skills. He could find himself blocked by Mitch Canham but will seize every opportunity given. He should begin the year in the same place he ended it this season – Fort Wayne. Expect Martinez to eventually be one of the best defensive catchers in the system and make a play for the big leagues by 2011.