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In 2014, Nick Martinez wasn't the Rangers best pitcher. Yu Darvish was the unquestioned ace and remains one of the best pitchers in the league. Nick Martinez wasn't the Rangers most important pitcher; almost inevitably, after missing more than five months, that proved to be Derek Holland. Nick Martinez wasn't the gutsy guidepost of the staff like Colby Lewis continues to be. Nick Martinez wasn't even the most valiant guy to take the mound for the Rangers as Scott Baker took blow after blow in a lost season as the staff janitor.
Nick Martinez, however, could easily be classified as the most improbable rotation member on the 2014 Rangers and possibly the one who stands to benefit the most from a year where expectations took a backseat to incredulity. Quick fact: Martinez finished second on the team behind Lewis with 22 starts in '14. Who could reasonably have expected that even as recently as July? That's certainly not what GM Jon Daniels had in mind when he was putting together a team he expected to contend over the winter. But now that it has happened, Martinez has a year of being in a big league rotation under his belt.
Even through the first couple of weeks of Spring Training, it was the longest of long shots that Nick Martinez would find himself anywhere other than Frisco to begin the season. Heck, Martinez didn't even participate in photo day with the other players in camp. That's probably because he wasn't even in big league camp until late March. Bryan Petersen? He had a photo. Alex Castellanos? Yep. Jose Contreras? You bet. The Rangers pitcher with the second most starts in '14? Nope. It wasn't until the middle of the season that ESPN finally had a photo of Martinez on its player page.
Not that it should come as a surprise that no one bothered to call him in for photo day. After all, Martinez finished the '13 season making all of five appearances at Frisco. The majority of that season was spent at High-A Myrtle Beach where he put together an ERA of 2.87 in 21 starts and 119.1 innings.
Drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 draft, Martinez spent most of time playing college ball for Fordham as an infielder and can be spotted as the on-deck hitter in the only other thing Fordham baseball has ever been known for:
The fact that Martinez had only really been pitching exclusively for just over two years made his ascent to the Ranger rotation all the more astounding.
What was Martinez's mindset heading into the 2014 season? Our man Tepid interviewed him for Lone Star Ball in February -- or a month or so before he found himself competing for a spot in the rotation. Who knows if at the time he was realistically thinking of the future in which -- by July -- he would find himself on the Yankee Stadium mound. The same mound he answered Tepid as the one he most looked forwarded to pitching on. But someone on the Rangers obviously considered the possibility.
The Rangers opened Spring Training with a rotation already in flux thanks to Derek Holland's injury in January. Coupled with the fact that invitees Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders were bombing out in Surprise, and slow starts by Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Nick Tepesch, the Rangers eventually landed on Martinez making his big league debut in Tampa on April 5.
Technically, Nick Martinez doesn't have a "million dollar arm" as he pitched in 2014 for the league minimum. What the Rangers got for that $500K was a heaping helping of hanging around the brothers Maddux, watching Colby battle, watching Darvish dazzle, and a year of traversing the ups and downs of life in the big leagues.
Martinez was never really considered an elite prospect for the Rangers; he never reached a BP or BA top 100 list, for example. He never reached the top 20 prospects on MLB.com's list. Minor League Ball had him ranked 12th in the 2014 Rangers preseason rankings with a B- grade. And our community ranked him No. 15 in our winter rankings.
He profiles more as a bottom of the rotation guy with league-average innings-eater as a realistic ceiling. That kind of future may not get folks hot and bothered, but, if 2014 taught us anything, it is that you need guys like Martinez to get you through a 162 game schedule.
For a season where he should have been taking his first real lumps at the Double-A proving ground, Martinez eventually held his own in the big leagues. Though he finished with a 5-12 win/loss record, he amassed 140.1 innings in 29 appearances and showed real improvement from the first half to the second half.
In the first half of the year, Martinez was walking more than he was striking out (3.90 K/9 - 4.16 BB/9), had a dubious FIP of 5.98, a troubling WHIP of 1.69, and looked every bit like the green rookie trying to keep his head above water. But over the second half, he improved his K/BB rate (5.89 K/9 - 2.95 BB/9), FIP (3.99), WHIP (1.25), and basically any stat you can think of. By September (2.40 ERA, 3.63 FIP in 30 innings), he looked like a pitcher who could help the Rangers in the 2015 rotation. Or, at the very least, provide the depth the 2014 team was sorely lacking.
That 2015 rotation is going to have a few open spots with Darvish and Holland as the only guys holding down a spot heading into the offseason. Lewis is likely to return. The front office will probably acquire or sign a starter or two. But come February, Nick Martinez will have a chance to make the rotation because he showed an ability to survive and eventually thrive. If he builds on what he did in the second half, he could end up being a nice success story to come from the disastrous 2014 season.
And you can bet he'll be invited to photo day.
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