As y'all know by now, in the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up, I'm doing write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25, in the order that they were selected.
I will again offer the caveat that I have no first-hand information about these guys, but am instead offering information based on other folks' reports and the statistical data that is out there.
After the jump, we look at the #4 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, centerfielder Leonys Martin.
Leonys Martin was one of the biggest Rangers stories of 2011, as the Cuban defector was officially signed to a 5 year, $15.5 million major league contract eight months and one day ago by Texas, one of the largest contracts ever given to an amateur player.
A 23 year old lefthanded hitting centerfielder, the scouting reports on Martin before he signed praised his defense and baserunning, but were largely mixed on his hit tool. Some scouts saw him as having the potential to be a Johnny Damon-type hitter, with good average, some walks, and doubles power, while others questioned whether he would ever be able to hit enough to be a first division starter. The Rangers obviously believed in the bat, and with Julio Borbon's struggles having cast doubt upon his future, Texas saw Martin as a potential long-term solution in center field.
Initially assigned to AA Frisco, Martin made the Rangers look smart, posting a .348/.435/.571 line in 135 plate appearances, while impressing with his defense. With the Rangers having issues at the major league level in center field as Borbon and David Murphy both struggled (and then Borbon got hurt), speculation began, both locally and nationally, that Martin was going to be the team's starting centerfielder sooner rather than later. The thinking was that Martin could see Arlington by mid-August, and would be positioned to be the team's centerfielder down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The prospectphiles were high on Martin, as well, with Baseball America including him at #25 on their midseason prospect list, although he didn't crack Keith Law's top 50.
On July 10, Martin got promoted to AAA Round Rock, and for the first time since signing, he looked mortal. In a span of about seven weeks (with a brief stint to Arlington to work out with the big league club in late July mixed in), Martin struggled with the bat, putting up a .263/.316/.314 line. Although his defense continued to get good reviews across the board -- both his arm and range are considered plus tools in center -- his issues with the bat put the brakes on the idea of fasttracking Leonys. While Martin did get a late season callup, he appeared in just 8 games and logged 8 plate appearances over the final month of the season with the Rangers, and the expectation is that he'll start the 2012 season in Round Rock.
Baseball America referred to Martin as an "enigma" during his time in AAA, but still thought enough of him to name him the #13 prospect in the Pacific Coast League in their end of season rankings, praising his speed and defense, and saying he has the tools to hit for average, as well. Keith Law had this to say about Martin after watching him in Round Rock in July:
I'd imagine he'll be worth five runs or more a year on defense when he gets more reps under his belt, which means it won't take a lot of bat for him to be a solid-average regular. If he does hit, he'll be a star, but there's a lot of work left to do on his swing before that becomes a realistic possibility.
As far as tools go, Martin is similar to Profar, in that he is solid across the board, with above average speed, range, and arm, but none of those tools grade out as elite. He doesn't profile as having much power, but has gotten good reviews for his plate discipline, and if his hit tool develops, he could turn into the prototype leadoff hitter everyone is looking for.
How fast can Martin get to Texas? I don't expect him to be on the Opening Day roster -- T.R. Sullivan wrote earlier this week that people in the organization think that he needs more time in the minors, and Ron Washington said after Martin's stint working out with the team last July that Martin was "raw," and that Martin "needs to play and learn." But Martin is going to be given a chance to compete for a starting job this spring, and he could certainly end up seizing the opportunity and claiming the starting job with a strong March.
More likely, I think Martin will end up starting the season in AAA, getting a chance to play every day and work on his swing (which the Rangers reportedly re-worked after signing him), and will get an opportunity to play at the major league level if (or when) on outfielder in the majors goes down with injury. The Rangers appear to be taking the attitude that Martin is the long-term solution out there, so as soon as he shows he's ready, he'll get a chance. I expect him to be the starting centerfielder by August 1.
What sort of upside does Martin have? As Law notes, if Martin's hit tool develops, if he becomes a .300 hitter, he could be a star. Its hard to think of a comp for what he could be if he hits his ceiling...Shane Victorino, perhaps, or Johnny Damon with less speed and more arm. Martin's floor is pretty high at this point, as well, since even if he doesn't hit, his defense and baserunning would make him a quality fourth outfielder who could play all four positions and provide a late game defensive replacement.