Kaiser: Offseason adjustments paying dividends for former Hen J.D. MartinezWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
After spending the entire offseason reinventing his swing in order to stay in Major League Baseball (MLB), the Houston Astros released outfielder J.D. Martinez a week before the start of the season.
At the age of 26, Martinez had already spent the better parts of three seasons with the Astros. The Astros have been in the midst of a major rebuilding project since 2011, and hold a record of 162-486 (.333 win percentage) since the start of that year.
J.D. Martinez was basically told by the worst team in Major League Baseball that he was not good enough to play for them.
When it was announced that Andy Dirks would be having back surgery in March that would keep him out until July, it was speculated that the Detroit Tigers would be in the hunt for an extra outfielder. On March 24, just two days after Martinez had been released, the Tigers inked him to a contract. Since he was not in spring training with the Tigers, he did not get to head north with the big club. Instead, he was sent to Toledo with the possibility of earning a call-up later in the season.
With the Mud Hens J.D. played in 17 games and clubbed 10 home runs, including a four-home run day when the Hens played a doubleheader in Columbus against Triple-A Cleveland. Martinez also carried a respectable .366 on-base percentage and a ridiculous slugging percentage of .846 in 71 Triple-A plate appearances.
Martinez was doing just about everything right with the bat when he got his call-up to Detroit on April 21. The Tigers needed more pop in their lineup, and were hoping that the hot stick Martinez was swinging would carry over into the show.
Over two months later, the move is still paying major dividends for the Tigers.
With an outfield that has disappointed both offensively and defensively so far, Martinez has been the single beacon of light. As of June 22, Martinez has a batting average of .310 with a robust OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .937, along with seven ding-dongs and 27 RBIs. On the other side of the ball, Martinez has exceeded expectations by playing admirable defense at the corner outfield positions.
Martinez’s success has apparently caught the eyes of officials around the MLB, too. For the week of June 16-22, Martinez was named the American League player of the week. In that stretch, he hit .444 (12-27) with four homers, including a huge three-run blast in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians on Friday.
You might ask yourself how Martinez has gone from a fringe MLB player to a slugger right in the heart of the first-place Detroit Tigers lineup. Well, it’s not simple, but put simply, it took a lot of hard work and dedication to the game of baseball. As was previously mentioned, Martinez worked in the offseason to reinvent his swing. He was looking for more consistency, and thought that in order to find it he needed a more fundamentally sound swing. He started by watching film of successful Major League hitters like former teammate Jason Castro, and current teammate Miguel Cabrera.
In order to put what he had learned to the test, Martinez went down to Venezuela last winter and played for Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. There, Martinez found some of what he was looking for — consistency. In 24 games Martinez hit .312 with six home runs and 18 RBIs.
Now, after working all offseason on perfecting an art that is not perfectible, Martinez has become a mainstay in the five hole behind Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the Tigers lineup. His contact-to-damage ratio has been off the charts, and while it’s easy to say he will eventually regress, he’s been the much-needed jolt the Detroit outfield has so desperately needed.
It’s going to be very challenging for him to continue to perform at the rate he’s been performing, but he’s given fans reasons to believe he will rise to the challenge.
He spent all winter making adjustments. His next step will be making more adjustments as opposing pitchers adjust to him.
At the very least, he’s given the Tigers organization something to think about. Dirks will start his rehabilitation assignment next week, and when he’s ready to come back to Detroit, the front office will have to remove a player from the current roster. As of now, J.D. Martinez is making a name for himself around Major League Baseball, and in the process showing the Tigers why he deserves to stay.
Cameron J. Kaiser is a 2014 graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School heading to Florida Gulf Coast University this fall. He blogs about the Detroit Tigers on his website ttowntiger.com.