At the beginning of the season, it was thought that the heart of the Detroit Tigers‘ perennial formidable lineup would feature Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, followed by Martinez…well it has, only it’s J.D. Martinez, a player cut in the spring by baseball’s worst team only to turn into one of the most interesting stories of the season’s first half.
Through the first three years of his big league career with the dismal Houston Astros, outfielder J. D. Martinez took his lumps, got some hits, but ultimately fell out of favor with the organization.
In 252 games with the Astros from 2011 to 2013, Martinez hit .251 with 24 HRs and 126 RBIs, while compiling a .300 OBP and a .387 Slugging percentage. While those numbers aren’t great, they also aren’t as bad a lot of 26-year-old players with less than three full years in the bigs.
Nevertheless, the Astros decided to leave Martinez off of their 40-man roster in the offseason. Martinez still attended Spring Training with club as a non-roster invitee, but was officially cut from the team on March 22 after 18 spring at-bats.
Two days later, on March 24, Martinez signed on with class of the AL Central and has yet to look back.
While playing in only 59 of Detroit’s first 95 games, Martinez has quickly catapulted himself from Spring Training outcast, to middle of the lineup run producer, who is often called on to bat cleanup behind arguably the games best hitter in Miguel Cabrera. He is also on pace to set career highs in every offensive category.
Currently, “the other Martinez” known as J.D., is hitting to a .330/.367/.616 slash line with 13 HRs and 44RBIs over 203 at-bats through his first 59 games. Martinez has already reached his career high for homers in a season, and if he continues at his current pace, he will easily pass his career highs in RBIs (55), hits (95), runs (34), and doubles (17).
Not to mention, Martinez currently sits with a .982 OPS, which would rank him second only to Mike Trout if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
Hitting in a far superior lineup for a much better team can’t be the only ingredient in what J.D. has cooking this season can it?
Martinez reconstructed his swing towards the end of the 2013, and on into the offseason. The Houston Astros simply didn’t give him enough time to showcase that change that is now paying dividends in Motown.
In an interview with Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press over the All-Star break, Martinez explained that he watched a lot of video and found mechanical similarities in the swings of guys like Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Jason Castro, which caused him to reassess his own stroke.
After Ryan Braun was suspended for PED use last year, Martinez says he kept seeing Braun’s swing played over and over again on ESPN and other news channels, which got him looking at the swing a little closer.
“That’s strange, that looks a lot like Jason’s (Castro) swing,” Martinez told Seidel. “Then I went back to the video room, and I watched video of Braun. They had similar swings. Not identical, but they looked the same through the hitting zone.”
Martinez worked on his new swing in Venezuela during the offseason, and after signing with the Tigers, worked hard to implement his new-found stroke for when and if he got a chance at the Majors again.
On April 21, Martinez was called up the Tigers to act as a part-time player following a back injury to Andy Dirks, and has parlayed that platoon playing time into a full-time gig becoming a bat the Tiger’s lineup now can’t do without.
Hitting fifth most of the time, and even fourth on occasion, Martinez has become that “out of nowhere” player that seems to surface each and every season, and it feels good for both the player and the team…just ask Jose Bautista and Evan Gattis about going from obscurity to offensive juggernaut.
Time will tell if Martinez can keep up his incredible tear, but for the time being, he has helped the Tigers achieve the lead in the AL Central with a 54-41 record, and a 5.5 game lead over the Cleveland Indians.
Not bad work for a guy who was unwanted by the worst teams in baseball just four short months ago.