Friday, January 11, 2008

Can You Hear The Drums, Fernando?

Typically I tend to withhold my opinion about these speculations considering they tend to be discredited before I can finish the second paragraph. Twins fans seem to be almost apathetic to new wire stories proclaiming yet another team has managed to make a package offer that never comes to fruition. Sure it give the bloggers the opportunity to disassembled the prospective deals but I attempt to stay above the fray and avoid the fodder and leave the full-time dissection to Gleeman, Seth, Josh and the Nicks. Then after watching some video clips of Fernando Martinez, I figured I needed to weigh in.

Depending on whose reports you believe, 18-year-old Fernando Martinez is either a) the linchpin prospect in a gaggle of four prospects to finally incite the Twins to execute the Johan Santana trade with the Mets or b) the most ludicrously overblown story ever uttered (supplemented by this NY Post article entitled "Just Say Nohan"). What has been offered, according to sources, is that the Mets, in exchange for Johan, are willing to part with the #6 though #3 prospects in system rated by Baseball America's rankings and #7, #4 through #2 ranked by John Sickels. That alone would be an almost complete decimation of the Mets farm system. However, intelligence says that if the Mets include Martinez (#2 in BA, #1 in Sickels) to the package, Santana would already be in Shea.

For those unfamiliar with Martinez, the Mets's propaganda machine had aired this piece introducing the nubile outfield prospect who was signed out of the Dominican in 2005. He was 16 when he received a $1.4 million bonus to sign with New York (Metsgeek has the full run down here):

-At 17, he spent the bulk of his first professional career at low-A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League. While there, in 211 plate appearances Martinez hit .333/.389/.505. His ops (.894) was 174 points high than the league average. His play earned him a promotion to high-A where he had an additional 130 plate appearances and hit .193/.254/.381 and his ops (.641) was 60 points lower than the Florida State League average. In his first full season of professional ball, Martinez, still not old enough to purchase Skoal, finished with a respectable line of .279/.336/.497 (as a reference, Ben Revere finished his first season at 18 with .325/.388/.429).

-In 2007, the Mets started the 18-year-old Martinez at Double-A Binghamton in the Eastern League where he had 259 plate appearances and finished similar to his previous season's total but with less pop, .271/.336/.377. Despite the lower production, it was a very solid season for a player who was seven years younger than the league average (25.0).

When analyzing both Martinez's swing (which you can view here) his most similar comparison seems to be that of Curtis Granderson (which you can view here). Aside from sharing the left-handed batters box, both generate power from a balanced weight-shift at the front foot which plants early but the hands and rest of the body stays back. They share long, quick swings which will lead to strike outs (as is the case with Granderson). You will notice that one difference between the swings is the position of the bat: Granderson tends to hold the barrel closer to his shoulder while Martinez moves his around more then holds it straight up. I would tend to assume that as Martinez ascends in the system, he will be asked to keep his bat still.

Naturally the two differ in the course of which the they reached professional baseball. Granderson graduated after playing college ball and made his way to high-A as a matured 22 while Martinez first saw action in high-A as an pubescent 17-year-old. Statistically, to this point in Martinez's short career they have had similar learning curves:

FM (A) 17 7.1% 17.1% 32.8% .894 .707
CG (A-) 21 8.6% 15.0% 30.1% .896 .666

FM (AA) 18 7.7% 19.6% 25.0% .713 .738
CG (A+) 22 9.3% 17.3% 36.7% .810 .668

Both upon reaching the next level saw the strikeout rates increase slightly (2.5% increase for Martinez and a 2.3% increase for Granderson) but also an increase in their walk rate (.6% for Martinez and .7% for Granderson). Martinez's power decreased in Double-A - again, a league whose competition was seven years older (25) - and he saw a decline of 7.8%. Granderson, on the other hand, increased his extra base hit ratio by 6.6% - but in a league where he was the league's average in age (22).

Based on this information, we can consider the projection of Martinez's career to be that of a Curtis Granderson as a baseline. If this is indeed the case, I would consider it a very good trade (with the company of Gomez, Humber, Guerra and Mulvey) for the Twins. However, I believe that Granderson is not the equivalent to Martinez because of the age differential while making progressions in the minors. Because of his relative success coupled with his young age, Martinez does have the capability to be the kind of ballplayer you can build a franchise around.