If you want sky-high potential, look no further than Orelvis Martinez. The Blue Jays prospect burst onto the scene in 2021, when videos of his towering homers littered social media and got fans excited for the future.
Now, in his second year with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Martinez seems to have found himself. He overcame a brutal start and sports a .225/.322/.530 slash line and 17 home runs, good for second in the Eastern League. More encouragingly, he’s elevated his walk rate and chopped the strikeouts — both signs of a maturing approach.
So, is Martinez fixed? And will he be in the majors soon? Let’s take a look.
What we know about Martinez
Let’s very quickly establish what Martinez did as a 20-year-old in Double-A last season. As one of the younger players in that league, the Dominican’s top tool — his crazy power — stood out. He swatted 30 homers and drove in 76 runs. Impressive, huh? Well, hold up.
In 2022, Martinez struck out 140 times in 433 at-bats (28.5% K rate). Those bloated whiff numbers would’ve put him among the top-10 highest strikeout rates in baseball, and, as such, Martinez was ultimately a below-average hitter (96 wRC+).
He started the 2023 season in an awful slump, batting 7-for-79 to start the year. That quickly changed, as Martinez has now produced a 1.119 OPS in his last 35 contests. But what does it all mean?
Well, for starters, the numbers suggest Martinez is a viciously streaky hitter, which isn’t uncommon for big power guys. In a pinch, the 21-year-old can rev up — take his 1.201 OPS in 29 spring training games, for example — but if he can tumble into a 7-for-79 slump, it means his game has flaws. Those numbers tell me there’s a blueprint for how pitchers can beat him. Maybe that’s breaking balls away or fastballs up and in. The point is that there are holes in his swing.
But, luckily for Martinez, he can tinker with his approach and counter anything pitchers try. The iron power provides an infallible baseline for his abilities, and it also makes him unique in the Jays farm system. Recent Jays prospects, such as Jordan Groshans, were heavy on approach and on-base ability but lacked the pop to be effective hitters.
You can’t just teach a guy to hit 450-foot homers; Martinez just does it, and that’s why his future is so tantalizing.
When will Martinez reach the majors?
The Blue Jays can be patient with Martinez, who’s ahead of schedule with his spot in Double-A. Most importantly, he needs to fasten down his pitch selection, but Toronto is also deciding where to put him on defence. His arm is strong, setting him up well for a spot at short on third base, though his range and defensive IQ might limit him.
With Bo Bichette pencilled in at shortstop for the near future, Martinez’s future seems more prosperous at the hot corner. Matt Chapman’s pending free agency makes that prophecy even likelier, too. So when will the Blue Jays prospect make his MLB debut?
First, Martinez would need some Triple-A reps; he’s not ripe enough for a promotion straight from New Hampshire, and I’m not even sure he graduates to Buffalo in 2023. After Martinez’s freezing start to the year, Toronto would be wise to let their slugging infielder finish up in Double-A, go through another MLB spring training, and begin 2024 with the Bisons. Let him drill his approach against slightly inferior pitching before challenging him further.
Through that lens, Martinez should debut next season, perhaps as a mid-year call-up. Assuming the Jays don’t re-sign Chapman, the club will need to replace him at third. Addison Barger figures to be a solid in-house option who can split platoon time with either Santiago Espinal or Cavan Biggio. If Toronto opts for a cheaper, veteran third baseman — like Joey Wendle or Jeimer Candelario — for next season, then that could muddy Martinez’s timeline.
In that case, Martinez would be waiting in the wings as an injury call-up, much like Gabriel Moreno did in 2022. But Toronto won’t promote a top guy such as Martinez without a clear avenue to consistent playing time.
Could the Blue Jays trade Martinez?
Toronto will find itself in a pickle ahead of this year’s Aug. 1 trade deadline. The club doesn’t really need any of the top-tier starters on the rumour mill (Shane Bieber, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito), nor does it want to pay the hefty price. On the other hand, the Blue Jays could probably use another bat (Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger), though they might not have anything tasty to offer.
Regardless, if the Blue Jays fancy themselves buyers, they’ll need prospect capital. If we assume Ricky Tiedemann is untouchable, then beyond Martinez and 2022 first-round pick Brandon Barriera, the Jays’ system is very bleak. Yet, to make a deal, rival general managers will want Martinez or Barriera.
So, is Martinez’s trade value his greatest asset? I’m not so sure. His slash line isn’t sexy, and after last year’s wonky season in Double-A, he tumbled out of most top-100 prospect lists. Martinez’s trade value was far higher during his breakout in 2021, when rival GMs showed tons of interest.
If the Blue Jays ultimately don’t believe in Martinez as a long-term fit, it’s more likely the club deals him in the winter, when trade prices aren’t inflated. That’s usually how this front office operates anyway. All to say, it’s best to let Martinez plod along through the minors before cutting bait.