Texas Rangers

Signing of Cuban outfielder gives Rangers another big international win

The signing of Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez on Thursday isn't the first time the Texas Rangers have landed a big fish in the international free-agent pool.

Just look at their 25-man rosters. Nomar Mazara, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar and Ronald Guzman were big-time July 2 prospects snatched up by the Rangers in the past 12 years.

But those signings came before the current international rules, where spending is capped. Leody Taveras, playing at High A Down East this season, is the most notable player the Rangers have signed under the past two collective-bargaining agreements.

Martinez, though, was the best international prospect available when the Rangers agreed to a $2.8 million bonus with him March 6. He was Plan B for the Rangers after they missed out on Plan A, Shohei Ohtani.

Martinez isn't as talented as Ohtani, and possibly not Taveras, but the addition indicates that the Rangers still have a high profile in Latin America and that they can overcome the handicaps that clubs can face under the new system.

"In this situation and most all situations, when a team wants a player and a player wants a team, those are the best situations," assistant general manager Mike Daly said. "Ultimately, Julio wanted to be a Ranger. There are a lot of things that are going well for the organization.

"I think it's our goal, no matter the department, we always want to strive to sign the best players for the organization. I don't think we look at one player as a statement, or anything like that."

Martinez underwent a physical earlier this month, and the deal was announced on the Rangers' off day during a conference call and again at a news conference in the Dominican Republic.

He will train at the Rangers academy in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, and play a handful of games in June in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the United States to join a full-season affiliate.

The Rangers are likely to play him with either Low A Hickory or High A Down East.

"Our full expectation is that he will play in the U.S. in the summer of 2018," Daly said.

Martinez said that it has always been his goal to play in the major leagues, and he's thrilled that the weather in Arlington is hot and steamy like his home in Cuba. He has set a goal for when he will make his MLB debut.

"My personal goal is no more than three years before I make it to the big leagues," Martinez said. "But I know all of that will depend on the results of my play and the needs of the big-league team."

Daly said that the Rangers turned their attention to Martinez after missing out on Ohtani in early December. They saw him work out Dec. 8 and again privately in January, and contacted Cuban players who knew him and had a good read on his playing ability and who he is as a person.

Martinez, 22, is ranked by Baseball America as the 60th best prospect in the game and No. 3 among Rangers prospects behind outfielders Willie Calhoun (No. 34) and Taveras (No. 51).

A center fielder, Martinez is speedy and has power potential for a smaller player (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) thanks to his "whippy bat speed [and] strong wrists," according to Baseball America.

"My strengths are my speed and my aggressive style of play," Martinez said. "I'm a good defender and have an ability to hit for contact with occasional power. I'm always trying to do the things to help the team win."

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram