logo

How can Blue Jays’ prospect Orelvis Martinez earn meaningful big-league at-bats this season?

alt
Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
No other hitter inside the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm system possesses more raw talent than infielder Orelvis Martinez, a 22-year-old righty embarking on a pivotal 2024 campaign with the franchise.
That potential has many people around this team asking when his time to shine will come; when can we expect to witness his highly-anticipated major league debut? And when he does arrive, what might his role be?
Most believe Martinez will appear at the big-league level this season, which isn’t all that surprising. But how the Blue Jays will find a home for him once he no longer has anything to prove in the minors remains a mystery, one they’ll need to start preparing for this spring.
If you haven’t noticed already, Toronto currently has more infielders – both major league and minor league-calibre – than it knows what to do with. None of them, however, come as highly regarded as Martinez, the organization’s No. 2 top prospect per several outlets, including MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.
Despite last season’s slow start, the Dominican-born slugger still racked up 28 combined home runs with 94 RBIs across two levels (Double-A, Triple-A) during his fourth professional campaign. For a big-league club that ranked middle of the pack in the power department in 2023, there’s no denying his hard-hitting profile would supply a massive offensive spark this season. Or, at least, have the potential to do so.
But because the organization’s cupboards are fully stocked with infielders, there isn’t a clear path for Martinez to earn a major-league opportunity out of spring training. He likely won’t receive much consideration unless an injury or two occurs involving a middle-infield group that consists of Cavan Biggio, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Davis Schneider, Santiago Espinal, Ernie Clement and Eduardo Escobar.
The easiest decision is to option the talented infielder back to Triple-A to repeat the level he finished the previous season, just as he did in 2023 at Double-A. And, ultimately, that’s probably what’ll end up happening. At the same time, though, a strong showing this spring will be difficult to ignore.
Martinez had plenty of eyes observing his third exhibition contest on Tuesday, as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound right-hander went 1-for-3 with a two-run double that exploded off his bat at 111.2 m.p.h. – the hardest hit recorded across the sport that day and the sixth-hardest hit of the spring (among recorded games). He also added a groundout that registered a 108.8 m.p.h. exit velocity.
Generating hard contact has been a prominent element of Martinez’s craft since he signed with the Blue Jays as a teenager in 2018. And that skill has continued to grow in the years since. But if he’s to make more than just a brief big-league cameo this season, his plate discipline needs to take a positive step forward for the second consecutive year.
Things looked bleak early on for Martinez with Double-A New Hampshire last season, sporting less-than-ideal strikeout (23.4 per cent) and walk rates (7.8 per cent) while also carrying a baffling .089/.159/.250 slash line and 6 wRC+ over the first month. It looked like the start of a stock-diminishing 2023 campaign – until it wasn’t.
The differences were night and day for the hard-hitting infielder. He cut down the swing-and-miss, lowering his strikeout rate to 20.5 per cent across his final 70 games with the Fisher Cats while increasing his walk rate to 14 per cent. That translated into a two-plus month power surge, resulting in 17 bombs, plus a .485 SLG, .259 ISO and 122 wRC+.
In the end, Martinez’s second stint at Double-A lasted just 292 plate appearances before he received a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A Buffalo last July. But his slugging display won’t be forgotten, as he was the only hitter out of 18 Eastern League players with at least 17 home runs and fewer than 300 plate appearances.
Martinez forced his way to Triple-A in 2023, a level that featured an average of 26.3 years old among hitters, according to Baseball Reference. That was an incredible accomplishment for the then-21-year-old, considering that figure was nearly three years older than the Eastern League’s average age (23.7).
Now, he needs to repeat that feat. With other players positioned ahead on the big-league depth chart, he needs to force the envelope with the Bisons to the point that the Blue Jays have no choice but to test him against major-league pitchers.
To do that, however, Martinez’s plate discipline – which took a step back following last season’s promotion to Buffalo – must show improvement at the Triple-A level. That means reducing a strikeout rate that soared to nearly 27 per cent and upping a walk rate that fell to 10.6 per cent.
It is important to remember how young Martinez is, even though his maturity is well beyond his years. Developing younger hitters typically takes time, especially when facing pitchers several years older than them. But if the progress he made in 2023 is any indication as to how he’ll fare in ’24, chances are his second go-around at Triple-A will be much smoother than his first.
Along with the tests he’ll need to pass at the plate, Toronto’s 2023 organizational All-Star, per MLB Pipeline, will also have overcome hurdles at second base, a position he debuted at with the Bisons last season and continued honing his craft at back home during winter ball.
While Martinez came up through the minors as a shortstop, the plan for this spring appears to have him exclusively play second base, which is already spoken for at the major league level. But it’ll be much easier to create opportunities at that spot compared to the left side with Bo Bichette as the club’s everyday shortstop, at least through 2025.
Doubling down on Martinez’s move to second suggests the Blue Jays intend to prioritize putting him in the best position to succeed defensively versus aligning their assets based on roster fit, as they should, quite frankly. If it were the other way around, third base would undoubtedly become his primary position following Matt Chapman’s departure.
Fitting the pieces together on the infield will be challenging, but not impossible, for manager John Schneider and his staff if Martinez forces his way into the majors. While Biggio and (Davis) Schneider expect to assume most of the reps at second base, both could share the hot corner with Kiner-Falefa – as well as Justin Turner on some occasions – to free up at-bats on the right side of the diamond.
Though Martinez’s long-term future appears to be at second, he, too, could occasionally rotate through third before likely giving way to a late-game defensive replacement such as Kiner-Falefa.
If the opportunity presents itself, the Blue Jays should be able to commit meaningful at-bats to their top position player prospect this season – all he has to do is force their hand and cause them to become creative with their infield deployment. Otherwise, he’s probably looking at repeating Triple-A for most, if not all, of 2024 with an eye toward ’25 for an impact role.
That may not be a terrible outcome, either. But for a team aiming to compete for the AL East, rostering a player with Martinez’s potential beyond injury replacement depth or as a September call-up is a decision that warrants serious consideration from top to bottom.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

Check out these posts...