St. Louis Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez is one of the best young arms in the game. Blessed with a live fastball and a power curveball, it didn’t take long for Martinez to make his mark at the big league level after making his debut in 2013.
Martinez went through a fairly different path than most Dominicans who come to play baseball in America. Martinez wasn’t discovered until he was 17 years old, the same year he was about to graduate high school. At the time, the Red Sox discovered the youngster who was topping out at 92 on the mound. Still very young, Martinez was projectable.
The Sox took a chance and signed Martinez, but there was some confusion. As part of the background check done by major league baseball, concerns rose about Martinez’s age and date of birth. As a result, the Red Sox deal was voided, and in March 2009, MLB suspended Martínez for a period of one year.
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Martinez took that year to train hard, and it paid off. He was now hitting the mid 90’s with his fastball and looked to be a very good sign for a big league team. The Cardinals signed Martinez as an international free agent in 2010 for a reported 1.5 million signing bonus.
Minor leagues and breaking on to the scene
While figuring out other visa issues, Martinez spent the summer of 2010 pitching in the Dominican Summer league. The hard-throwing righty dominated, leading the DSL with a 0.76 ERA in 59 innings pitched. Martinez was extremely impressive in Cardinals mini-camp in February 2011, so unlike others, he jumped rookie ball and the lower levels of the minors. He spent the 2011 season split between class A Quad City and high A palm beach.
After two full seasons in the minors, Martinez made his big league debut in 2013 out of the pen. He spent most of 2013 out of the bullpen, but in 2014 the fifth rotation spot was up for grabs. Martinez made seven starts in 2014 posting a 2-4 record with a 4.03 ERA.
2015 was the season where he really began to solidify himself as a legitimate starter for the Cards. Through two full seasons as a starter at the major league level, Martinez has put up an impressive 3.02 ERA with a 30-16 record in that span.
Here’s the impressive stat: he’s struck out 358 hitters in 375 innings pitched in those two seasons where he was in the rotation. Martinez has shown the ability to just absolutely carve up opposing hitters with a high 90’s tailing fastball, and a putaway power curveball. That brings us to our next topic, pitch repertoire.
Martinez is a five-pitch guy. But he can command all of them. The sinking fastball has a ton of dive on it and creates a lot of swing and misses while sitting in the mid-90s. The four-seam fastball has great movement thanks to a three-quarters arm slot which creates a lot of tail on the heater. It tends to sit anywhere from 95 to 99.
The curveball is the real deal for Martinez. It usually has an 11-to-5 or 12 -to-6 spin, but it’s a power curveball that sits in the low 80’s. In my opinion, it’s one of the best curveballs in the game right now. Filthy movement, but also quick enough that it doesn’t give the hitter a lot of time to think.
Next, the changeup. It features some nice sink to it, but he does throw it quite hard in the mid to high 80s. When he keeps the pitch down, it’ a great secondary pitch to the heater and curveball. He also throws a hard slider that sits in the high 80’s which has great bite and has proven to be another putaway pitch for the 25-year-old.
This is something I’ve heard in the past, and it is 100 percent true. Martinez is very similar to Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. First, Carlos is 6 feet, 190 pounds. Pedro was about the same, a bit smaller at 5’10. But they both have electric arms and very similar mechanics. Both have smooth, deceptive, and effortless mechanics and the ball just jumps out of the hand. Carlos features the power curveball which is very similar to the curveball that Pedro thrived on his entire career.
When it comes to pitchers in the game today, Martinez and Jacob deGrom are quite similar. Both of them have very smooth and easy mechanics with easy velocity. Degrom is obviously a little lankier than Martinez, but they have similar arm slots and both use their lower half very well in their delivery. They both hide the ball very well, creating a lot of deception and making it difficult for hitters to pick the ball up out of the hand.
Building off a strong 2016
Although it was a disappointing 2016 for the Cardinals, it was Martinez’s best season yet as a starter. He posted a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA. That performance earned him a hefty payday in the offseason, as he signed a five-year, $51 million deal with the Cardinals. St. Louis will look to Martinez to lead the staff in hopes of a better 2017 as they will look to compete with the Cubbies for the National League Central title.