While Eloy Jimenez has garnered most of the press and hype in the Cubs’ system this season, Eddy Martinez has slowly put up some big numbers of his own. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .382 with an OBP of .450. And that’s actually dragging his monthly numbers down. For the month of July, Martinez is hitting .393 with an amazing .483 OBP. That’s a pretty good turnaround from April when he hit .235 with an OBP of just .270. The changes Martinez made in just a few months are very impressive.
Martinez defected from Cuba two years ago and was declared an international free agent by MLB. Originally, it was thought he would bring a bonus of eight figures. When the 2015 International Free Agency season began, Martinez did not sign right away. Then, in late fall, it looked like he would sign with the Giants for $2.5 million, only to sign with the Cubs a few days later for $500,000 more. After an investigation, MLB ruled the Cubs contract valid.
I thought Martinez was going to be assigned to the Arizona Rookie League team in 2016 to acclimate to American culture. In spring training, Martinez quickly showed that his skills were beyond that level, so he was sent to South Bend instead. Interestingly, he would play alongside Eloy Jimenez, another former highly sought after international free agent.
At the beginning of the season, Martinez came on strong before the league realized he was a pretty free swinger. He was hitting .375 just a few games in, then his average plummeted. In early May, he started to become selective. This new approach would take a while to master and he was only hitting .212 on May 23.
While his average continued to drop, the other stats indicated positive changes. His strikeout rate decreased and his walk rate rose dramatically. Consider the fact that he only walked three times for the entire month of April. It also took him three weeks to get that first walk. In May, however, Martinez walked 13 times and in June, 10 more. Now, just halfway through July, Martinez already has 10 free passes.
It has been really fun to watch him transform from free swinger to disciplined hitter. I had the opportunity to talk with Martinez, via hitting coach/translator Guillermo Martinez, before a doubleheader in Clinton, Iowa.
TJ: You struggled early on and now you’re hot; what’s been the biggest adjustment that you’ve made?
EM: Early on I was struggling, I wasn’t really focusing on things I should’ve been focused on. As the year went on, I have become mentally stronger.
TJ: What is the biggest thing that you’re working on now to improve yourself for the second half?
EM: One of the biggest things I really focused on is playing happy. I believe playing happy has made it a stress-free environment and I have been able to see results out of it.
TJ: Do you have a preference on which outfield position to play?
EM: I feel very comfortable playing all three. I always wanted to be a centerfielder, but I feel good to play all three.
Although it was only three questions, it took a while for everything to get translated back and forth. What impressed me most was the time Martinez took to think about each question and give a thoughtful answer.
Here is some video of an at-bat against Clinton that shows the patient approach he’s been working on.
In April, he would not have laid off the first pitch. In fact, he probably would have swung at every offering.
I think Martinez will continue to be a disciplined hitter and an eventual byproduct of that will be power. However, I think that power is going to come in spurts. He has seven home runs now, and I think it’s easy to project four or five more before the season ends. He currently has 47 runs batted in, which I find amazing considering his low average in April and May. I expect him to drive in another 25 more runs over the rest of the season. When it is all said and done, his first year should end up with a stat line like this: .280/12/75 with an OBP close to .360. That would be a small improvement over his current .267/7/47 and .343.
I think that would be a pretty good line for a player who left his home and family in Cuba to live out his dream of playing in the United States. Considering all the adjustments Martinez has had to make in his personal life makes his significant strides on the field all the more impressive. The stats are great, but I’m really taken with his conscious effort to “play happy.”
If he can maintain that outlook and keep improving on the field, Eddy Martinez is going to have no problem playing happy for several more years.