Name: Nick Martinez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: August 5, 1990 (22)
Acquired: 2011 Amateur Draft, 18th Round
Nick Martinez doesn't have the typical background of a starting pitching prospect––because he doesn't have a background as a starting pitcher.
When Martinez toed the rubber in the Arizona League on July 2, 2011, it marked his first-ever start at any level of baseball. He entered the Rangers' organization with minimal game experience as a pitcher overall.
The 22-year-old Miami native spent three years as a starting middle infielder at Fordham University in the Bronx. As a junior in 2011, 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, athletic ability, and clean arm action.
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 (at the time), 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 ERA 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 the 2011 MLB Draft. After signing, he reported to the rookie-level Arizona League, where he began working as a starting pitcher.
Splitting his debut summer between the Arizona League and short-season Spokane, Martinez flashed impressive stuff and feel for pitching despite his lack of experience. Over 15 games (11 starts), he had a 2.30 ERA. In 58.2 innings, he'd allowed 58 hits, walked 18, and struck out 56.
The prospect progressed forward to Single-A Hickory in 2012, his first full season of professional ball––also his first full season of pitching. Although there were some ups and downs, Martinez continued to show decent stuff with a deep repertoire and a feel for pitching. He kept his head above water, putting up a 4.83 ERA in 31 games (20 starts). The hurler also threw strikes, walking just 37 while fanning 109 over 117.1 innings.
Lone Star Dugout was in attendance for Martinez's start at Lakewood on July 12. In that appearance, he surrendered two runs (one earned) in five innings, giving up five hits, walking three, and striking out seven.
The following interview came after that July 12 start, and the video below features two innings from that outing.
Jason Cole: What were your thoughts on tonight's (July 12) outing?
Nick Martinez: Just every time I go out there, I want to give our team a chance to win no matter what it takes––even if I just go four innings or take them deep into the game for six or seven. I just want to give our team an opportunity to win.
Today I felt good, but I didn't have my slider. My slider is usually my out pitch. It wasn't really working for me so I had to find an alternative to that. Luckily for me, my fastball command was there and I was able to spot in and out and up and down. So I just battled out there today.
Cole: Tell me about your changeup. It was pretty impressive today. First of all, as a two-way player in college who only relieved occasionally, did you ever throw a changeup?
Martinez: In college, during my junior year, I don't think I threw a changeup in any of my outings. I didn't throw it all year.
Cole: Did you ever work on the changeup on the side?
Martinez: I did work on one. But it wasn't to the extent that I do now. I completely changed the grip, the way I throw it, my mentality about it, and when to throw it. It's just a whole different outlook with my changeup from a year ago to now.
Cole: What's the grip that you've found comfort with?
Martinez: Well, I go with the circle change that I had, but I just moved it up on my fingers. I used to have it in the middle of my knuckle last year. Now it's just maybe with the fingertips. It's a nice, easy grip and not too hard. I don't want to grip it too hard. I just try to throw it like a fastball.
Cole: When guys start throwing a changeup consistently for the first time, they'll often have problems with dropping their arm slot or slowing down their mechanics. Have you run into any issues with that?
Martinez: At times. At times, I will. But it clicked for me early in the season, so if I did push the ball––push my changeup––a little bit, I knew exactly what I had to do on the very next pitch to get right back to where it needs to be.
Cole: You started the year in the bullpen and have since moved into the starting rotation.
Martinez: Yeah, I started the year in the bullpen and they just mixed me into the rotation. I don't know the reason––for innings or what. But they just want to see what I can do as a starter. I'm going to pitch wherever they put me––whether it's in the bullpen or in the rotation.
Cole: How do you feel about your season as a whole?
Martinez: It has definitely taken a toll on my body. The grind out there––it's great to have someone like (pitching coach) Storm (Davis) as a coach because he's been through it. He has been through that grind>
He kind of guides us as the season goes on. He tells us when it's going to get mentally tough, and it's right around now. He says the middle of July to the middle of August is when it's going to start being a real mental game. You've just got to go out there with a positive outlook and stay focused.
Cole: You threw 19.2 innings in college last season before getting the summer with the Rangers. But you've now pitched much more than you ever had previously. How has that been? Do you feel at all fatigued?
Martinez: I definitely feel some fatigue in there. But at this point last year, I could feel my body––I had broken down already and I could feel it in my arm. My velo went down about this time last year.
But again, the workouts that we had and the workouts that I had in the offseason and the throwing program that the Texas Rangers provided me with––it has helped me to go that extra. When I get to that point where my body would have broken down, it's going to give me that extra power or force to help me battle through it.
Cole: You mentioned Storm Davis talking to you guys about overcoming the mid-to-late season physical fatigue. Do your pitching coaches, whether it be Storm or Danny Clark, talk about how the grind is normal for players going through their first full season?
Martinez: Yeah, Storm does a great job with that. He'll tell us during warmups to try to make less throws but make more happen for you. It's just so you don't put extra strain on your arm. That's really the only thing we have as pitchers.
Cole: You said your wasn't really on tonight. DId you throw your curveball a little more than usual as a result?
Martinez: Right, yeah. I threw the curveball more for a strike today. I felt comfortable with it. I recognized that I didn't have my slider today, so I needed to get some sort of breaking ball over for a strike. I was able to do that with my curveball today and just worked with my other pitches.
Cole: As mentioned, you were primarily an infielder at Fordham University. The Rangers obviously drafted you as a pitcher. But you're now a year into being a full-time pitcher. Do you miss hitting at all?
Martinez: I mean, I miss it sometimes––seeing these guys hit. I still look at the opposing pitcher when I'm not pitching to see if I can recognize things that hitters usually analyze––their pickoff moves and stuff like that. It's just the nature of being a position player. But there are days when I miss it, yeah.
Cole: Do you feel that analytical approach helps you as a pitcher?
Martinez: I think it has some advantages, but then again, I wasn't that great of a hitter (laughs). I think there is some sort of advantage there.
Cole: When you work on the side with your pitching coaches this year, what have you been focusing on? Have you changed anything mechanically from last year?
Martinez: Actually, it's funny you mentioned that. During my last couple outings, (Rangers minor league pitching coordinator) Danny Clark noticed something. From the stretch, my front foot was landing a little too early and causing my arm to drag a little bit. So we did work on that a little bit in between my starts.
I think it was better today from the stretch. My leg kick is still the same––maybe just slightly higher. But other than that, nothing mechanically.
Cole: As you look forward to the remainder of the season, what do you feel you can improve upon?
Martinez: I always want to keep my fastball command up there. That's a great quality to have as a pitcher. I know that 1-2 counts have hurt me a lot this year. I've had a couple 1-2, 0-2, or 2-2 hits off me. I don't know if it's a focus issue or I'm just not completely having faith in the pitch or what. But that's one thing that I've worked on mostly this year. Hopefully I can capitalize and get better at it.
Cole: Some of your fastballs have a little more run and sink than others. Are you throwing both two- and four-seam fastballs?
Martinez: I did throw a couple two-seams today. It's a pitch that I play around with. I don't really throw it too often. I just randomly pick when to throw it. I mean, I don't really see the action––you clearly saw it. But I just grip it as a two-seam and throw it.
Cole: It could've been that a few of your four-seamers had natural life on it.
Martinez: Yeah, it may have been my arm angle. Sometimes when I fall behind––I was actually talking to Phil Klein about this. Sometimes when I fall behind 2-0 or 3-0, I'll step off the mound and just throw away the mentality of being a pitcher. I'll throw it out the door and on the next pitch, I'll just go with pure athleticism and try to get it over and chuck it for a strike. It doesn't matter how I throw it––just try to get it over the middle. And when I get the ball back, then I'll go back to thinking like a pitcher and pitch.
Cole: Have you noticed the four-seamer having much movement in the past? It seemed like it did last year.
Martinez: Sometimes it may be that my body is drifting the other way. That causes it. Maybe my body just isn't staying in the zone as long. I'm able to keep my arm in the zone, but my body is drifting a little bit, and that could cause a little run off it. But I don't think it's intentional.
Also See: Lone Star Dugout Video: Nick Martinez (August 18, 2012)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: As a starter, Martinez shows a major league average fastball, sitting at 90-92 mph and reaching up to 93-94 a handful of times per game. There's a little tailing action to the pitch on occasion, but it's generally pretty true and lacks plus life. The right-hander pounds the strike zone with his fastball, walking just 37 batters in 117.1 innings at Hickory last season.
His within-the-zone fastball command is loose at present, but it's projectable. While he's a short strider, Martinez is a good athlete with a clean, repeatable delivery; his command should improve with more experience on the mound. He has the physical tools and perhaps the aptitude to develop plus command to go along with the control.
Standing at 6-foot-1, Martinez has an over-the-top delivery that enables him to get decent angle on his fastball when it's located down in the zone. It flattens out and becomes hittable when left up at 90-92, though, making his future command all the more important.
Other Pitches: Still relatively new to full-time pitching, Martinez has quickly picked up a four-pitch repertoire as a starter in pro ball. He'll mix in a slider, a curveball, and a changeup during starts. His 82-84 mph slider doesn't project as a consistent bat-misser, but with good velocity and some late tilt, it should miss barrels. He has a potential fringe-average to average mid-70s curveball with good shape; it's more of a get-ahead type that's best used as a supplement to his arsenal when the slider is working.
Given his infield-heavy background, Martinez lacked game experience with his changeup entering the Rangers' system, but it showed promise last year. Thrown anywhere between 81-86 mph with some deception and good fading action, his change is another potential average pitch. None of Martinez's three secondaries are wipeout, but they're all usable; all three could be average, with the slider potentially a solid-average offering.
Projection: Martinez has a chance to become a back-end major league starting pitcher. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, he's certainly not on the big side for a starter, but his athleticism, clean delivery, good fastball, feel for pitching, and deep repertoire could enable him to stick in the role. There isn't much projection remaining with Martinez. For the most part, what you see is what you get; he'll just need to continue refining his secondary stuff and overall command. Martinez is advanced given his overall lack of experience on the mound, and there's room for improvement.
2013 Outlook: After a full season at Single-A Hickory in 2012, the 22-year-old Martinez will almost certainly progress forward to High-A Myrtle Beach this season. He opened last year in the bullpen before joining the rotation in mid-May. With a 117.1-inning season under his belt, it's a good bet that Martinez will begin this year in the Pelicans' starting rotation. A mid-to-late season move to Double-A Frisco probably won't be out of the question if he performs well in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League.
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