As badly as the Texas Rangers wanted to land Shohei Ohtani, and as confident as they were after making their presentation to the Japanese star, they still had a backup plan in mind in case he decided to go elsewhere.
The $3.53 million they had in international money could go along way, either for a bevy of players who had yet to sign during the current period or for the best available player remaining.
It turns out there was such a player, and he was ready to get moving toward his MLB dream. It didn’t hurt that the Rangers could offer him more money than any of his others suitors after defecting from Cuba.
That player is the third-ranked Rangers prospect, according to the Star-Telegram.
No. 3: CF Julio Pablo Martinez
Born: March 21, 1996
Height: 5-foot-11. Weight: 190 pounds.
How acquired: International free agent, 2018
To be relocated to Spokane, Wash., following an escape from Cuba and more than a half-year of training in the Dominican Republic, must have been quite a culture shock for Julio Pablo Martinez.
The expectation, though, was that it would be only a temporary stop until he found his footing, which he started to do after a slow first week. Martinez, though, spent the whole season in Spokane, where the Rangers house their short-season Class A team, and he’s trying to get them a Northwest League championship.
But the chance to be in the playoffs wasn’t what kept Martinez in one spot this season. He was stacked up behind two center fielders at Low A Hickory, Bubba Thompson and Pedro Gonzalez, in a Rangers system that could have some maneuvering to do in the coming seasons.
As for his first foray into baseball in the U.S., Martinez didn’t to anything to tarnish the lofty prospect status that came with him from Cuba.
“We saw the talent, but also it was better for a guy that didn’t play for a period of time for all the process he went through,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “His instincts and feel for the game were still pretty good. We saw the power, the approach. I think it’ll be a good off-season.”
Martinez’s season won’t end when the playoffs are done. He is one of the six minor-leaguers the Rangers are sending to the Arizona Fall League, which will be a step up in talent level from what he saw in Spokane.
The Rangers were still able to easily see the things that made Martinez so attractive to them. He’s a good hitter, with power and speed and a mature approach, and he’s already advanced defensively.
He batted only .252 in Spokane, but had a .351 on-base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage. Take away a 4-for-32 slump to open the Spokane season, albeit with eight walks and two hit by pitches, and Martinez posted a .272/.342/.475 slash line.
“His bat is in the zone a long time,” assistant general manager Jayce Tingler said. “It’s good bat-to-ball skills. He’s adjusting to the level and the league. He gets better by the week.”
To that end, Martinez entered Tuesday batting .421 (8 for 19) with two home runs in Spokane’s first five playoff games. If things go well this fall, he could find himself jumping a level or two next season.
Martinez agreed to sign with the Rangers in March for $2.8 million, but the deal wasn’t announced for another month. During the conference call introducing him, he said that his goal is to be in the major leagues in three years.
He has that kind of talent and potential.
“He’s got a great swing, and he can defend, he can throw, and he’s a plus-runner,” Tingler said. “He’s going to be really good.”
Star-Telegram Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Cole Ragans
No. 9: Tyler Phillips
No. 8: Joe Palumbo
No. 7: Taylor Hearn
No. 6: Jonathan Hernandez
No. 5: Cole Winn
No. 4: Bubba Thompson
No. 3: Julio Pablo Martinez
No. 2: Thursday
No. 1: Friday