Before I was an Over the Monster contributor and, in fact, nearly a decade ago at this point, I was a summer intern/beat writer for the Albany Times Union, a local newspaper in Albany, New York. My beat for the Times Union was covering the Tri-City ValleyCats. If you are not a fervent New York-Penn League aficionado, then you may not know that the ValleyCats are the Single-A short season affiliate of the Houston Astros.
While covering the 2009 ValleyCats, I wrote about, spoke with and evaluated the play of a number of minor leaguers. Most of them had just been drafted earlier that summer and would never make the MLB level. But the optimism of that place was palpable. Every player could become an MLB regular some day. Maybe even a star.
There was only one player who ever really looked like he would. That players was J.D. Martinez.
Martinez was drafted by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft and spent his first 19 professional games with the rookie league Greenevile Astros. He destroyed the competition, throwing up an OPS of 1.186 in 83 plate appearances. Clearly he was a big fish in a small body of water.
So the Astros decided to promote him to the ValleyCats. Once again, it was like dumping a great white shark into a koi pond. Before Martinez arrived, there were a few players who had stood out a bit, but nobody who was clearly built for MLB stardom. (Even Dallas Keuchel, who was also a ValleyCat that season). That all changed when Martinez showed up. He struck pitches with such authority and sent them soaring at such a speed and distance it was clear that he was in a class all his own. In 53 games with the ValleyCats, the then 21-year-old Martinez slashed .320/.380/.920 with 24 extra-base hits, including seven home runs.
Two years later, on July 30, 2011, he made is MLB debut with the Houston Astros. At the time I thought, “Neat. A player I covered is now playing against the Milwaukee Brewers.” Three years later he slashed .315/.358/.553 with the Detroit Tigers and I thought, “It was only a matter of time.” Three years after that (last season) he mashed 45 home runs with the Tigers and Arizona Diamonbacks and even I was in awe at his ascension.
Fast forward to today and Martinez has signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox. I’m as excited as you are. He agreed on terms that seem beneficial (depending on who you ask) to both sides and will immediately help stem the power outage at Fenway Park. Its also a surreal feeling, since as we get to know the new slugger, I’ll still remember him hitting bombs into the night in Upstate New York.
Even if the Red Sox didn’t absolutely need to sign Martinez, it is really good that they did. (Steve Buckley; Boston Herald)
Plus, at $110 million over five years, Martinez didn’t break the bank. (Zachary D. Rymer; Bleacher Report)
Is that five years too much? It depends who you ask. I say that’s perfectly fine, especially if he begins DHing full time in the next few years. But with an opt-out clause after two years, we’ll see just how long he’ll be a Red Sox. (Keith Law; ESPN)
But let’s not dwell on that negative possibility. Let’s just be stoked that the Red Sox got a guy who just hit 45 home runs in a single season. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
Elsewhere, Xander Bogaerts belongs in the conversation when discussing the best shortstops in baseball. However, he hurt his own cause last year when he slumped heavily during the second half (.235/.324/.347). If he can bounce back, he’ll be right back in the discussion. (Scott Lauber; ESPN)
It always warms the heart to see crossover between the Boston teams. Brad Stevens, who is a very successful NBA coach with the Boston Celtics, stopped by spring training. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)