While Eloy Jimenez has garnered most of the press and hype in the Cubs’ system the past month, Eddy Martinez has slowly put up some big numbers of his own. For the month of July, Martinez is hitting .393 with an amazing OBP of .483. In his last 10 games, he is hitting.382 with an OBP of 450. 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 escaped from Cuba two years ago and was declared an international free agent by MLB. Originally, it was thought he would bring a bonus of 8 figures. When the 2015 International Free Agency season began, Martinez did not sign right away. Then, in late fall, it looked like Martinez 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, the Cubs contract was ruled valid by MLB.
Originally, I thought that Martinez was going to be assigned to the Arizona Rookie League team in 2016 to acclimate to American culture. That did not happen. In spring training, Martinez quickly showed that his skills were beyond that level. Instead, he would go to South Bend. 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 after four games and then his average soon plummeted. In early May, he started to become selective. However, this new approach would take a while to master. On May 23, he was only hitting .212.
While his average continued to drop, the other stats changed. His strikeout rate reduced and his walk rate dramatically increased. Consider the fact he only walked three times for the entire month of April. It also took him three weeks to get that first walk. InMay he walked 13 times, June, 10. Now, just halfway through July, Martinez already has 10 total walks for the month.
It has been really fun to watch him transform from free swinger to disciplined hitter. I had the opportunity to talk about these changes with Eddy before a doubleheader in Clinton, Iowa. Hitting Coach Guillermo Martinez was the translator for the interview.
Me: You struggled early on and now you’re hot; what’s been the biggest adjustment that you made?
Eddy: 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.
Me: What is the biggest thing that you’re working on now to improve yourself for the second half?
Eddy: 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
Me: Do you have a preference on which outfield position to play?
Eddy: I feel very comfortable playing all three. I always wanted to be a centerfielder, but that feel good to play all three.
It was a quick interview, although it was only three questions, it took a while for everything to get translated back-and-forth. What I was impressed with was the time he took to think about each question and give a thoughtful answer.
Here is a video of his new found approach in operation at Clinton:
In April, he would have swung at every pitch. Here, he works the count until he gets a pitch he likes. It works very well.
I think Martinez will continue to be a disciplined hitter and a byproduct of that will be power. However, I think that power is going to come in spurts. Right now, he has seven home runs, and I think it’s easy to project that he will have 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 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. Currently, he is at .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 he has had to make in his personal life, the fact that he’s made adjustments on the field has been impressive. While you may be impressed by his improving stat line, I am impressed with his attitude to “play happy.” I think next year, he will be even better because of the adjustments he made this year.