May 4, 2013
The Situation: With the worst bullpen in the major leagues as measured by ERA, the Cardinals are in desperate need for relief help. Just as they turned to right-hander Trevor Rosenthal down the stretch and in the playoffs last year, the Cardinals will again turn to a young, hard-throwing right-hander in Carlos Martinez.
Background: Previously known as Carlos Matias, Martinez failed a background inspection and was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball rather than being allowed to sign with the Red Sox in in 2009. After the suspension was up, the Cardinals gave him a massive payday, ponying up a $1.5 million signing bonus. Pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, Martinez started 12 games en route to posting a miniscule 0.76 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 59 innings.
The Cardinals jumped him all the way to Low-A Quad Cities in 2011, and he responded with a 3.93 ERA in 18 starts despite being one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Martinez finished the 2011 season in High-A, posting a 5.28 ERA in 10 starts as he struggled to adjust to the improved competition. He continued to move aggressively through the system in 2012, breezing through a second trip to the Florida State League and notching a 2.90 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with Double-A Springfield. Martinez returned to Double-A to start the 2013 season, and he had allowed 11 hits in 11 1/3 innings with one walk and nine strikeouts at the time of his call-up.
Scouting Report: Martinez has always drawn considerable praise for his exceptional fastball. He consistently sits in the 94-97 mph range with his four-seamer and has regularly touched 99 mph in the past. Even his sinking two-seamer has excellent velocity, sitting in the 92-93 mph range and touching 95 when he wants a little more. Martinez likes to attack with his fastball and shows the ability to move it around the zone when he doesn’t overthrow. To back up up his fastball, Martinez offers both a very good curveball and changeup. His curveball will occasionally work as a plus pitch with tight rotation and good depth.
As if that weren’t enough, Martinez’s changeup could be a second legitimate plus-plus offering. He has tremendous arm speed when throwing it, affording him excellent deception. Martinez routinely throws strikes with all three pitches and over the last two seasons has developed his ability to work outside the zone and make the “pitcher’s pitch.” If the Cardinals decide to keep Martinez in the bullpen long term, he could become an All-Star-level closer. But many scouts still believe Martinez has a future as a no. 2 starter in a championship rotation.
Immediate Big-League Future: Martinez’s impressive raw stuff plays up even more in short bursts, and he has a chance to dominate big-league hitters out of the bullpen this summer. While many scouts believe he can start long term, he should experience immediate success in the bullpen, where he can both blow his fastball by hitters in high-leverage situations and tease them with his curveball and changeup. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the impact Martinez has in fantasy leagues for 2013 alone will likely pale in comparison to the impact he will have on my heart. One of my favorite prospects in the minor leagues, Martinez is one of those guys who is very tough to rank from a fantasy perspective because of the influence the Cardinals organization has on his value long-term. There was really never any doubt in my mind that they would break him in at the major-league level in the bullpen, as that seems to be an organizational philosophy. However, despite the Cardinals' public stance that they still see him a starting pitcher long term, the depth they have in their rotation (combined with the potentially elite numbers Martinez could put up in a short burst role) could dictate his future role more than his talent does. Fortunately, elite-level closers do still have plenty of value in fantasy leagues, and that is a very realistic outcome for him if he stays in the bullpen beyond 2013.
Given 50 innings out of the bullpen, which is conservative if he stays up, Martinez has the potential to be the kind of shutdown arm with a sub-2.50 ERA, sub-1.10 WHIP and upwards of 65 strikeouts. Additionally, if you're in a league which has either a start or innings limit (or frankly, any league where middle relievers have value), Martinez could be a great asset as well. He has the potential to be one of the five best non-save-accumulating relief pitchers in the game for fantasy the rest of this season. In shallower leagues, he bears watching in case it looks like he could stumble into saves, but he appears to be at least third in line at the moment.
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark