SURPRISE, Ariz. — Leonys Martin is in the midst of one of the best times in his life. He is playing well in spring training and could emerge as the Texas Rangers’ everyday center fielder.Martin, a 25-year-old who defected from Cuba in 2010, also became a United States resident Monday in Miami.“It’s one of the happiest moments of my life,” Martin said. “But it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got to keep working hard to reach the ultimate goal and we have to do it as a team. Personally, it gives me a peace of mind and I’m very happy right now.”Martin defected from Cuba three years ago during the World University Baseball Championship in Taiwan. He signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Rangers on May 4, 2011, and has been on the road to the big leagues ever since.Martin has had stints with the Rangers the past two seasons, but it appears he’s ready to become a full-time big leaguer. He went into Tuesday’s game with a .359 batting average and seven RBIs over 39 Cactus League at-bats.“He’s getting better and he just has to keep working,” manager Ron Washington said. “He hasn’t figured anything out yet and we’re going to make sure that he doesn’t get into that mode where he thinks he’s figured something out. I’m going to make sure he becomes a pro under my watch.”When he does, it will cap off quite a journey for Martin. It wasn’t an easy decision to defect and, as he has said, the process took him to Japan and then to a difficult limbo in Mexico.“It was very difficult leaving my friends back home and making new friends in this new country, but three years have passed,” Martin said. “I’ve made new friends and the transition was not so easy but smoother than I thought.”Outside of baseball, Martin said he is most looking forward to being a U.S. resident and starting a charitable foundation.“It will help the poor and kids with problems, kids with cancer,” Martin said. “So this is something I look forward to doing in this country and we’re just happy that we’re in the process of doing it.”Olt, Meek among cutsThe Rangers had their biggest round of cuts to date, sending 13 to the minor leagues on Tuesday morning. The most prominent was infielder Mike Olt, a top prospect who was batting .194 in Cactus League games.“It’s good because I’m going to get more reps and get back on track,” said Olt, who will get most of his reps at third base with occasional starts in right field.Olt, left-hander Jeff Beliveau, right-hander Wilmer Font and outfielder Engel Beltre were optioned to Triple A Round Rock.Nine more were re-assigned to minor league camp including right-handers Evan Meek, Collin Balester and Yoshinori Tateyama; left-hander Neal Cotts; catchers Juan Apodaca and Jose Felix; outfielder Aaron Cunningham; and infielders Brandon Allen and Brandon Snyder.Meek got off to a slow start, but had pitched better of late. Still, his velocity wasn’t in the 95-96 mph range where it used to be and others had passed him in the right-handed relief pecking order.“We just made a decision that right now he doesn’t fit,” Ron Washington said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make hard decisions and tough decisions. We’re not always right in our decisions, but we just felt like it was time for him to go down and get some regular work.”With the cuts, the Rangers now have 45 in big league camp.Getting betterMartin Perez is progressing well in his recovery after breaking his left arm earlier this month. He is strengthening his arm with a squeeze ball, and only needs to wear his brace when he sleeps and walks around outside.Perez has kept his spirits high through the rehab process, too.“My mind is good,” Perez said. “I’m just concentrating on my rehab and after that I just want to stay healthy to help the team win.”Joakim Soria, meanwhile, is also doing well in his recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He is throwing all of his pitches in bullpen sessions, and could be ready to throw live batting practice in about 10 days.Briefly• Right-hander Yu Darvish, who was scratched from his start Monday with neck stiffness, felt better Tuesday and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Thursday. If that goes well, Darvish will pitch in a game Saturday, likely in the minor leagues.• Catcher Eli Whiteside (mild left calf strain) returned to game action for the first time since late February, catching Derek Holland’s minor league start.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison