Martinez impressing in Arizona

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Although Nick Martinez was primarily an infielder in college, he is flashing above-average velocity and advanced command of multiple pitches with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers this summer. Lone Star Dugout features and interviews the 20-year-old prospect.

When Nick Martinez toed the rubber in the first inning against the AZL Clubs in July 2, it marked his first-ever lifetime start at any level of baseball. In fact, Martinez entered the Texas Rangers' organization with minimal game experience as a pitcher overall.

The 20-year-old Miami native spent the last three years as a starting middle infielder at Fordham University in the Bronx. As a junior this past season, he batted .292 and led the club with a .404 on-base percentage. But the Rangers weren't interested in his ability to hit or play second base.

Although he logged only 26.1 total innings on the mound during his three collegiate seasons, Rangers area scout Jay Heafner was clearly intrigued by Martinez's arm strength. And in a post-draft interview, Martinez indicated that the Rangers were one of the only teams to show serious interest in him.

"Throughout the year, I got a couple questionnaires from other teams," Martinez said after the draft. "I put down that I was a position player and a pitcher, but the only team that was really interested in me was Texas. And they were only interested in me as a pitcher."

Heafner––a native of North Carolina––saw Martinez pitch early in the college season when the Rams played in North and South Carolina for three consecutive weekends. And as the Rangers' Northeast area scout, he was able to follow up on the prospect throughout the season.

Martinez ended up logging a career-high 10 appearances out of the Fordham bullpen and posted a 2.75 earned-run average with three saves. In 19.2 innings, he gave up 19 hits, walked nine, and struck out 20.

The Rangers ended up selecting Martinez with their 18th round pick in June's MLB Draft. Not long after the draft, the right-hander (and lefty hitter) actually left home to play for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League. He worked two innings on opening night, giving up a run on one hit while walking two and striking out three.

But that would be Martinez's only game in the Cape. As he explains below, he agreed to contract terms with the Rangers and immediately returned home to Miami before signing the deal and shipping out to the club's minor league complex in Arizona.

So far, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound hurler has been one of the Surprise Rangers' most impressive––if not most surprising––pitchers. Martinez currently has a 1.83 ERA through six games. In 19.2 innings, he has allowed 21 hits while walking only two and fanning 19.

Martinez is––as mentioned––also working as a starting pitcher for the first time in his life. And both the early results and stuff have been impressive.

During his July 7 outing against the AZL Padres, Martinez displayed advanced command of a 92-94 mph fastball while striking out seven in four scoreless innings. On July 18 against the Diamondbacks, he hurled a season-high five shutout frames, giving up two hits and fanning five without issuing a walk.

Overall, Martinez is throwing his fastball at 91-93 mph and topping out at 94 mph at least a few times per outing.

Though he entered the summer with little game experience as a pitcher (Rangers' Miami area scout Juan Alvarez has served as his personal pitching coach at home), the prospect is repeating his delivery with a clean arm action and commanding his heater low in the strike zone. His fastball also has some late armside run, which is currently helping him induce three groundouts per airout in the Arizona League.

Martinez is having plenty of success while relying heavily on his fastball. In his last start––against the Diamondbacks––he threw 54 strikes out of 71 pitches in the five scoreless innings. He also threw 61 fastballs in the game, plus four changeups, four sliders, and two curveballs.

As Martinez progresses, the Rangers would certainly like to see him throw the secondary stuff more often––even if he is able to consistently retire AZL hitters with his fastball. Martinez says pitching coach Ryan O'Malley wants his pitchers to throw their changeup 17 percent of the time.

Still, Martinez is also showing the ability to command both his breaking balls––the slider and curve. In college this past season, he shelved the curveball for a new 80-83 mph slider, which he is currently using as his put-away secondary pitch. Martinez also has a 76 mph curveball that he throws early in counts to get ahead of hitters.

The changeup is the offering Martinez is currently working to pick up in Arizona. Having never thrown a change as a college reliever, he is toying with grips and beginning to mix it into game action. Against the D-Backs, Martinez threw four changeups between 84-86 mph. He threw it for a strike just once, and the pitch was a bit firm and left up each time.

With only 19.2 innings under his belt, Martinez is just getting his professional career underway. But due to his ability to command multiple pitches––including plus velocity––the 18th-round pick and infielder-turned-pitcher is standing out as an emerging pitching prospect.

Jason Cole: Just tell me about your last outing––throwing five scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks.

Nick Martinez: Yeah, it is the longest I have pitched out here. I just went into the game knowing that I have to stick to my strength, which is locating my fastball. Usually until a team shows me that they can hit my fastball, I'm going to keep on throwing it. That's pretty much what I did that day.

Cole: And you said that was the most you had thrown in a game?

Martinez: Yeah, I think that's the most that I have ever thrown in my life. It was 71 pitches that day. It's the most I've ever thrown in my life in a game.

Cole: Since you had never thrown that much before, how did you feel after the outing?

Martinez: I felt great. I wasn't tired. I was honestly ready to go out for another inning, but I have a 75 pitch limit, so they had to bring in Blackwell after me.

Cole: Even though you're from Miami, you went to college in the Bronx. Obviously the heat out here isn't ideal, but I also imagine it's a little easier to get your arm loose in the Arizona summer.

Martinez: It's awesome. It is a huge difference. It takes so much longer to get warmed up in New York––especially in the start of the season when it's still cold out. We're practicing outside and it would still be 40 degrees. Then you come out here, and I'm happy to be out here in this heat, to be honest.

Cole: When you signed, did you know that the Rangers were going to develop you as a starting pitcher out here?

Martinez: I didn't know they were going to develop me as a starting pitcher. I knew I was going to be a pitcher. But as soon as I got here, they just told me that I was going to work out with the starters. To be honest, that's what I prefer more. I wanted to be a starter if I was going to be a pitcher at all.

Cole: Had you ever worked as a starting pitcher at any level before this summer?

Martinez: Never in my life. I had never started a game.

Cole: You obviously get into a little different warmup routine when you're starting. What was it like the first time you did that?

Martinez: When I came out here, I kept the same routine as Blackwell did. When I first got out here, he was starting the games and I was coming in after him. But my first start against the Cubs––when I walked in, I saw Martinez/Blackwell instead of Blackwell/Martinez. The butterflies came in, and I was getting nervous a little bit. But that cleared up after that game.

Cole: When I interviewed you right after the draft, you mentioned that you basically only threw your slider in college this season, but you are now mixing in the curveball as well. How do you feel the curve is coming along this summer?

Martinez: Right now, it's still a work in progress––throwing it for a strike. I'm working with (pitching coach) Ryan O'Malley with it. Almost every day, we're talking about it––when I throw it and how I should throw it. We're still working on stuff like that. But I think it has come along great. I'm really picking up on it pretty quick.

Cole: Do you have a preference between your curveball and slider right now?

Martinez: Not at all. I like to throw the curveball more for a strike to get ahead maybe on guys that are sitting fastball. I like to maybe get ahead with the curveball. And I like to maybe throw a slider to put away guys because it's sharper and looks more like a fastball.

Cole: What are your thoughts on the slider since you've been out here?

Martinez: So far it has been great. I just started throwing it this past season, but I think it has come along great. I was actually working with Ryan on it today. It is going great.

Cole: Were you focusing on anything in particular with it?

Martinez: Mainly getting my confidence in locating it. I want to really get away from righties and down into that back leg on lefties.

Cole: I know your velocity out here has ticked up a little from where it was in college. What do you think is the reason behind that?

Martinez: In college, I was throwing every day. I was never one of those guys that took a day off. In college, I really threw it hard every time that I had to throw the ball. And coming out here and getting on a program––I think it has definitely strengthened my arm.

Cole: Take me through the program you're on and the day-to-day routine as a starting pitcher in the Arizona League.

Martinez: We usually just go out and warm up. We long toss quite a bit. We call it like massaging the shoulder. And then we'll take it out to about 180 feet and sometimes to about 200 or 225 feet. We'll still massage it. And then as we get in, we'll do what we call pull downs. We will do that up until the day before we start. And two days after I start, I'll throw a flat ground. Three days after I start, I'll throw a bullpen and then get one day of rest in between my start and my bullpen.

Cole: You haven't thrown a lot of games out here yet, but have you felt any arm fatigue yet given the fact that you're just getting used to pitching on a full-time basis?

Martinez: No, not at all. I have felt sore, but my velocity has still been there. I find that to be fantastic. I'm doing a real good job of keeping my routine. They really do a good job here of making sure that we stick to our routine. That is actually one of the first times I've learned––I always had a routine with baseball, but as a pitcher I never had a routine. As soon as I got here, they were emphasizing on routines. I think I'm doing a great job with that.

Cole: It seems like your fastball has a little bit of late run on it. Are you throwing a two-seamer or is it just a four-seam with natural life?

Martinez: I have a two-seam that I throw. I usually throw it late in counts to righties when I want to go in––jam in on them. But that's the only time I'll really throw my two-seam. Other than that, it's a four-seam that I want to locate.

Cole: Because you didn't have a ton of experience on the mound before you got here, have you had to work through anything mechanically so far this summer?

Martinez: No. Every since high school, I've been seeing a pitching coach, so I've been working on mechanics even though I knew I wasn't a pitcher in college. I've been working on mechanics since my senior year of high school.

Cole: Was your pitching coach Juan Alvarez, the Rangers' Miami area scout?

Martinez: Yeah, he was my pitching coach.

Cole: Just talk about how much he has helped you over the years.

Martinez: Oh, he has helped me a great deal. He is one of the first ones that saw my arm strength in high school. He lives right around my house, too, so he came and contacted me and told me that I have a future in pitching. Thank God I listened to him, because I've always wanted to play professional baseball as an infielder. But I listened to him, went to him for help, and he has helped me ever since.

Cole: As a college reliever, I'm sure you didn't throw the changeup very often.

Martinez: Not at all. I didn't throw it one time.

Cole: Had you ever really even worked with one before you came out here?

Martinez: Before I came out here––no I didn't, actually. Because I had a summer contact in the Cape Cod League. And as soon as I negotiated my contract, I flew home, signed the contract, and the next day I was out. So I didn't even get a chance to throw it there.

Cole: You threw it at least a couple times against the Diamondbacks, didn't you?

Martinez: Yeah, I threw it a couple times. I'm getting more and more confident with it. Ryan really wants us––we have to try and throw our changeup 17 percent out of all our pitches. I've been trying to work on throwing it more. I didn't really throw it at all. Not my last start, but in the start before I was really confident with it. I was throwing it for a strike. Every outing that I go out there, I feel better and better about my changeup.

Cole: What is the thing with the changeup that you've really got to lock down now? Is it just the overall feel? Commanding it?

Martinez: I don't think it's so much location but just the feel for it and arm speed. That's the deception of the changeup––the arm speed. It happens to me all the time––I'll slow up my arm or push the ball. So I'm really working on my arm speed along with my grip.

Cole: As you look forward to the remainder of your season in the Arizona League, talk about some things that you would like to improve upon.

Martinez: I definitely need to work on putting away guys––maybe pitch sequence would be the thing I need to work on most.

Cole: Have you done much talking with guys like Ryan O'Malley about that?

Martinez: Absolutely. I carry a notebook, scouting other teams and learning what I should throw. I always ask him about what's a good pitch to throw in certain counts or to which type of hitter. I really get into detail with it.

Cole: Is that something you picked up on your own?

Martinez: Well, Ryan had talked to me about it a little bit. But I just always knew coming into here that I didn't have any type of knowledge of what to throw to hitters. So I just knew right away that I needed to work on that as soon as I got here.

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