With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at outfielder Jason Martin.
Before we talk about Jason Martin, we need to hop into the Wayback Machine and go all the way back to the year 2007 — specifically, spring training, 2007. GW was in the White House. Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake and Fergie were atop the Billboard charts. The Dallas Mavericks were en route to a 67 win season. 300 was dominating the box office.
And in Surprise, Arizona, a little known infielder named Matt Kata was one of the stars of the Texas Rangers’ spring training.
Kata, signed to a minor league deal in the offseason, appeared at the start of camp to simply be minor league depth. Jerry Hairston, Jr., was expected to be the team’s utility infielder, while Marlon Byrd had been signed to be the team’s fourth outfielder. Kata was a random guy who was to going to go to Oklahoma City and play wherever needed there.
But Kata emerged as one of the big stories in camp. Baseball Cube has historical spring training stats, and they show Kata with a .382/.390/.564 slash line that spring. Now, that wasn’t as impressive as Sammy Sosa’s .408/.444/.816 slash line, but it was enough for the Rangers to decide that they really needed Kata on the Opening Day roster. So the Rangers junked their plan to have Hairston as the utility infielder and Byrd as the fourth outfielder, deciding to move Hairston to the fourth outfielder role in order to keep Matt Kata, and designating Marlon Byrd for assignment.
If you ever saw Fittz’s “these aren’t the Matt Kata Rangers” tagline, you know how this turned out. Kata was terrible, both at the plate and in the field, with an early season disaster in Seattle that featured two E5s by Kata and at least one other play that was charitably scored a single for M’s third baseman Adrian Beltre that should have been an error. Kata ended up being designated for assignment in early June, having slashed .186/.250/.300 in 77 plate appearances, and ending his stint with Texas on a 1 for 39 streak. Marlon Byrd, who accepted an outright assignment once he cleared waivers, raked in Oklahoma and was brought up in late May, beginning a three year run of being a very productive player for the Rangers.
And we all learned a lesson about not getting too worked up over spring performances.
Nevertheless, it seems like every spring, there is a journeyman on a minor league deal who looks good for a few weeks and generates enthusiasm. I remember in 2018, when Destin Hood had camp watchers lamenting that the Rangers couldn’t find room for him on their Opening Day roster, and assuring us he would be contributing in the big leagues at some point that year. Hood went on to split the season between Frisco and Round Rock, not hitting well at either spot.
Which brings us to Jason Martin. Signed as a minor league free agent by the Rangers prior to the 2021 season, Martin had originally been drafted by the Houston Astros, and was sent to the Pirates as part of the Gerrit Cole deal. Martin had a couple of brief stints in the majors with Pittsburgh in 2019 and 2020, didn’t really hit, and thus was signed by the Rangers to be AAA depth in the rebuilding 2021 season.
Martin ended up impressing in spring training, being one of the last cuts of camp, and was at the Alternate Training Site until the AAA season began, when he was deployed to Round Rock. An injury to David Dahl opened the door for Martin to get the call in late May. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
That move [to replace Dahl] is bringing up spring, and early minor league season, sensation Jason Martin. Martin was signed this past offseason as a minor league free agent and was in camp as an NRI. He had a strong spring performance, went to the Alternate Training Site and impressed, and has mashed in the first couple of weeks of the AAA season, slashing .302/.413/.755 in 63 plate appearances over 15 games for Round Rock, including a home run last night.
Martin, at age 25, was still relatively young, giving more reason for optimism than you’d have with an older player in a similar situation. And the Rangers, in full on rebuilding mode, were in a position to give opportunities to players who might otherwise be overlooked. Sometimes spring sensations end up being the real deal, after all.
Usually, though, they aren’t. Thus was the case with Jason Martin. Martin was in a bench role for close to a month but didn’t really perform, slashing .171/.216/.257 in 37 plate appearances before being sent down in late June for Andy Ibanez.
That began Martin’s stint shuttling constantly between the majors and the minors for a period of time. Here’s the transaction log for Martin, starting when he was sent down for Ibanez:
June 21, 2021 — Texas Rangers optioned CF Jason Martin to Round Rock Express
June 27, 2021 — Texas Rangers recalled CF Jason Martin from Round Rock Express
June 29, 2021 — Texas Rangers optioned CF Jason Martin to Round Rock Express
July 9, 2021 — Texas Rangers recalled CF Jason Martin from Round Rock Express
July 20, 2021 — Texas Rangers optioned CF Jason Martin to Round Rock Express
July 27, 2021 — Texas Rangers recalled CF Jason Martin from Round Rock Express
After the trade deadline, Martin stayed up for a while and got regular playing time, and he improved somewhat, slashing .240/.253/.427 in 100 plate appearances from the time he was called up on July 27 until mid-September, when he was sent back down to Round Rock to finish out the year. Once the season ended, Martin was placed on waivers, and when he went unclaimed, elected free agency.
In late November, Martin signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, reversing the usual trend of fringe guys going from the Dodgers to the Rangers. He will likely be AAA depth with the Dodgers, with an opportunity to get some major league playing time if someone gets hurt. And it may be that Martin will take strides, will show that his spring and early season AAA performance in 2021 was not just an aberration, but was a sign of real improvement that he can build on, and ultimately establish himself as a major leaguer. Or he may be one of those guys who bounces around as AAA depth, a guy who signs a minor league deal every offseason and waits for the call that someone is hurt, or got traded, and the big league club needs him to fill in for a period of time.
And we’ll continue to see guys on minor league deals come to camp and have great springs, and think, maybe its for real this time.