Five weeks from Tuesday, Cardinals pitchers and catchers will officially report to the club’s spring training complex at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. And about seven weeks posterior to the report date of batterymates, the 2017 regular season will commence.
As we gravitate toward Opening Day, I’ll periodically explore cases for a handful of players who are teetering on the edge of landing a spot on the 25-man roster. First up: Jose Martinez. Nearly half of those who participated in this Twitter poll say no:
Jose Martinez.. Opening Day roster?— Josey Curtis (@Curtis_Josey) January 9, 2017
The Cardinals acquired Martinez from the Kansas City Royals in May of 2016 for cash considerations after the right-handed-hitting outfielder was crowned Pacific Coast League batting champion for his performance as a member of the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2015. Martinez maintained a substantial .384 batting mark through 98 games in 2015, and 38 of the 131 hits he tallied went for extra bases, including 25 doubles, three triples, and ten home runs.
Martinez remained in the PCL following his trade to the Cardinals, joining the Memphis Redbirds, where the 28-year-old spent the summer registering 27 XBHs and a .327 wOBA across 329 plate appearances with the ‘birds before receiving a promotion to the big-league club as part of September’s roster expansion.
Saying his call-up to the majors was long-awaited would be a complete understatement. After ten years in the minors -- try 887 games -- Martinez planted his feet in a big-league batter’s box for the first time on September 6 at PNC Park. Martinez went on to work a 1-2 count off Pirates reliever Felipe Rivero but ultimately grounded out to account for the second out of the inning.
Nevertheless, the groundout would not define his first month in the Majors.
Martinez managed to garner seven hits in sixteen at-bats over twelve games in the season’s final month, scoring four runs and strikeout just once in the span. As a defender, Martinez logged 22 frames out in left field and a couple at first base, performing cleanly and free of errors throughout the 24 innings of fieldwork.
With the subtractions of Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss to free agency and loss of Jeremy Hazelbaker on waivers, the Cardinals deducted their roster of three outfielders who occupied it when the 2016 campaign began. The free-agent signing of Dexter Fowler plugs one of those gaps, yet a glaring one still remains: the fill-in outfielder’s role, since Fowler will patrol center field alongside Randal Grichuk to his right and Stephen Piscotty to his left.
Martinez brings to the table a fair amount of power (he owns a minor-league career .412 slugging percentage) and, for his 6’6”, 215-pound stature, a considerable amount of speed. Martinez has robbed 72 bags over 106 career attempts, including nine out of ten during his stint with the Redbirds last year.
Martinez remains an option to fill that role for the Cardinals, along with Tommy Pham. Spring training figures to be important for Martinez and Pham, considering that it’s unlikely both will crack the 25-man roster out of camp.