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Spokane Indians outfielder J.P. Martinez showing sparks of elite prospect

UPDATED: Mon., July 23, 2018

Spokane Indians outfielder J.P. Martinez breaks for first after dropping a hit to the outfield in the first inning against Everett on June 26, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians outfielder J.P. Martinez breaks for first after dropping a hit to the outfield in the first inning against Everett on June 26, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Even elite-level prospects need a while to get adjusted.

When the Texas Rangers promoted outfielder J.P. Martinez from their Dominican Summer League team to the Spokane Indians for opening day, the speedy Cuban could not have been hitting better.

Over seven games in the rookie-level league, Martinez went 9 for 22 (.409) with a homer and two steals, and reached base at an outrageous .606 clip.

It’s no wonder the 5-foot-10, 180 pound lefthander earned the promotion to short-season A.

His first few series in the Northwest League, though, showed that the organization’s No. 3 prospect still had some work to do.

Martinez, and the rest of his Spokane Indians teammates, start the second half of the Northwest League season on Tuesday with an eight-game homestand. The Indians face Tri-City for three games before a five-game set against first-half South Division champ Hillsboro.

Following an 0-for-5 performance at Tri-City on June 21, Martinez was hitting .095/.296/.190 for his first week in Spokane.

On June 26, a 7-5 comeback win over Everett, Martinez homered, singled, stole a base and scored twice. He finally showed sparks of the type of hitter he could be.

“I’m not looking at the numbers too heavy,” Indians manager Kenny Holmberg said then of Martinez’ slow start. “I’m looking at the approach, the swing, the balance.

“He’s getting beat on some fastballs at times, but he didn’t get beat there.”

He started to make some better contact, but as of July 4 his batting average was still at .179, not befitting a player that is mentioned on national prospect top 100 lists.

But the next three days he turned in two-hit games, showing that the process was starting to make progress.

Martinez, 22, went through another rough patch, but last week he showed signs of progress once again.

On Wednesday against Everett, Martinez went 2 for 5 with a home run and a triple, totaling seven bases. The next day at Salem-Keizer, he went 2 for 5 again with a homer, with three RBIs and a stolen base.

On Friday, he did it again. He went 2 for 4 with his third home run in as many days with two RBIs, upping his season average to .245, the high-water mark thus far.

All three games were Indians wins.

Martinez is up to six home runs, tied for fourth in the NWL, with 11 RBIs and has seven steals in 10 attempts. He is tied for third in the league in runs (23) with teammate Diosbel Arias.

The Rangers signed Martinez on March 6 for a $2.9 million bonus as one of the top international players available on the market.

On MLB scouts’ radar since his mid-teens, Martinez hit .333/.469/.498 during the 2016-17 Cuban Serie Nacional, the highest league in that country. He then hit .297/.345/.449 for Trois-Rivieres in the independent 2017 Canadian American Association.

Martinez became the fourth player – the others current Major Leaguers – to debut in the Serie Nacional at 16 and appeared in nearly 300 games during his five seasons in the league, compiling a .293/.393/.430 slash line.

Martinez was highly coveted by several MLB teams, and the Rangers turned their attention to him after they lost out to the Los Angeles Angels for the services of Shohei Ohtani.

Texas had to to make multiple trades for international bonus pool money to have the resources to land Martinez.

“We spent a lot of time getting around him, getting to know him and learning about him as a person,” Rangers assistant general manager Mike Daly told in April. “We were engaged with him on a daily basis.”

The Rangers won’t know if they made a worthy investment on Martinez for several years.

Through the first 30 games of the NWL season, though, one can see the evident skills on display, though they are coming in spectacular bursts rather than consistent production at this point.

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