A couple of years ago, the Texas Rangers wanted to expand their international scouting influence under new management. And by expand, I actually mean just have a presence.
In 2011, the Rangers started making their presence known by signing a Cuban outfielder that, at the time, many in the front office felt could be their centerfielder of the future. It didn’t take Leonys Martin very long to catch on with the big league club.
In order to play in the Major Leagues, Martin defected from Cuba during the 2010 World University Baseball Championship in Taiwan. Soon after, he signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract that included a $5 million signing bonus.
While Martin saw limited action over the last couple of seasons while adjusting to the MLB style of play, that investment now appears to be paying off.
The offensive numbers are not spectacular but solid: .277 batting average, 3 home runs, 12 RBIs and 12 stolen bases this season.
Martin has picked it up over the week, hitting .364 during that span. He’s using the Ballpark in Arlington to his benefit with a .354 home batting average. The scouting reports ring true with Martin, a line-drive hitter with sweet spot contact and has good strike zone awareness.
But it’s the defense that’s causing Martin to stand out of the crowd. He’s considered to be one of the best when it comes to arm accuracy among outfielders. Martin’s speed also allows him to close on balls in the gap quicker than expected. Plus, he’s not afraid to get his uniform dirty, always a positive.
At the time of the signing, the move had some shaking their heads. You already had an All-Star in Josh Hamilton roaming the outfield, and he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The idea presented by the Rangers was to eventually move Hamilton to left full-time and Martin taking over at center.
Fast forward to this past offseason, Hamilton bolts to the Los Angeles Angels, leaving an opening in the outfield many never thought would happen. The plan then was to have Martin and Craig Gentry platoon in center, basically until someone could prove the spot was theirs for good. Martin is starting to make a case with his play of late.
At 25, Martin may just be scratching the surface on what he can do. But the glimpses so far has shown the potential to be a future All-Star and cornerstone of the Rangers outfield for years to come. He has shown versatility in playing both center and right. Once the bat gets going, who knows what we’ll see.
The opportunity that nobody could foresee a couple of years ago, at least nobody outside of the front office, has arrived and now Martin appears to be taking advantage of it.