When the Texas Rangers made Leonys Martin the first Cuban defector they've ever signed back in the middle of the 2011 season, it raised a few eyebrows when he was given $20.5 million over five years — a nice chunk of change for a guy that had never done a thing in the big leagues.
Martin quickly went on to dominate at every level in the minors, tearing up Double-A Frisco and doing the same at Triple-A Round Rock after a short learning curve.
In very limited big-league action in 2011 and 2012, Martin had mixed results but was given the opportunity to earn much more playing time in 2013 with the departure of Josh Hamilton via free agency and the sudden opening in center field.
Martin and Craig Gentry had an open competition in spring training, and both guys played well but it seemed evident from the get-go that the Rangers were high on Martin, who has a much higher ceiling than Gentry. Martin has gotten the majority of the playing time in 2013, and he's starting to show the Rangers they were right in their assumption about him.
In his last nine games, seven of which were starts, Martin is hitting .346 with a double, two triples and a home run. He has his season average up to .281 with three triples, two homers, five stolen bases and five RBIs.
He's also showing the cannon arm we heard all about with some of the best outfield throws from center in recent memory in Arlington. He already has three outfield assists and a couple of other throws that were tremendous and had no business being close to getting guys out at home, but have done just that.
Gentry is great as a role player with tremendous speed and the ability to hit for average. He's also an above-average defender. But Martin is showing he's a special player with the potential to hit 10-15 home runs and steal bases almost as well as Gentry. While Gentry is an above-average defender, Martin is a what they call a plus-plus defender with an awesome arm.