The Argument for the Jays to Sign Cuban Leonys Martin

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There is yet another Cuban whose free agency lies on the horizon in Leonys Martin (sometimes spelled Leon’ys Martin). He’s a 22 year old who won a silver medal with the Cuban baseball team in the 2009 WBC. With the Jays being so aggressive on the international market, we’re forced to take a look at how this new talented player could fit into the Jays plans. So, having done some digging, here is the majority of what you need to know about Leonys Martin:

Leonys Martin Tapanes

Born: March 6th 1988, in Corralillo, Villa Clara Cuba

Height/Weight: 6’1″ 180 lbs      Bats: Left   Throws: Right

Quick Facts:

  • Played for Cuba in the 2006 World Junior Championship.
  • Played for Cuba as a 4th outfielder in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and went 2 for 7 with 3 runs scored. Listed as an important member of the Villa Clara squad in this article precluding the 2008-2009 season. Well, his performance wound up getting Villa Clara to the Championship finals where they eventually lost to La Habana. Martin was noted to be a catalyst in getting Villa Clara past the best team that season, Ciego de Avila, in this game recap. He made the all-star team that season as a utility player.
  • In the playoffs, against the South Koreans during the University Championships of 2010 in Tokyo, he led off for the Cuban team and was 2 for 4 with 1 walk, a double, and a stolen base. At the time, he led the tournament in runs (13) and stolen bases (4 for 5). He was the catalyst in getting the Cubans going in the 10th inning during the University Championships in Tokyo in 2010 when he got himself into scoring position, along with another runner on 1B, while down 3-1 to Team USA just in time for Alfredo Despaignes to hit a walk-off 3 run HR to earn Cuba the Championship win.

Stats while playing for Villa Clara (may be updated as information is found):

Runs Triples BB SB AVG OBP SLG
2007-2008 9 13 0.398 0.497 0.564 * Second in average
2008-2009 83 78 17 0.311 0.491 0.492 *Made the all-star team as a UT player

Other Experience:

  • Played in the World Port Tournament in 2009 and hit 13 hits, 4 doubles, had 7 runs, drove in 7 RBI and had 20 total bases while holding a .310/.356/.476 line in the event. The WPT took place in Rotterdam and had the Dutch, Cuban, Japanese, and Taiwan teams included. Cuba won handily with a 8-1-1 record. Aroldis Chapman was scheduled to take part in the event but defected just before the tournament took place.
  • During the University Championships in Tokyo in 2010, he had the following stats in his first 17 ABs: .471/.640/.588, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 6 walks, 2 strike outs, and stole 4 bases in 5 attempts.

It’s very hard to get a real feel for a Cuban prospect since there’s really very little exposure to them from a scouting point of view and there tends to be more emphasis placed on their international experience as a result. Well, thankfully for Leonys Martin fans, he has some international experience and has done very well on those stages. He may not be the core of the lineup player many teams covet, but he holds his own as a catalyst for creating run opportunities for his teams at the top of the lineup.

Below is the small amount of information that what I was able to find in terms of credible source takes on his makeup and skills.

John Manuel of Baseball America provides us with the best breakdown in terms of what skills Martin could bring to MLB wit the following quote (from an article available here):

“Martin, whose age is listed as 22, left Cuba after playing for the country’s national team in Taiwan during the FISU World University Championships. He batted lead off frequently for Cuba in that tournament, which is limited to players age 27 and under. He was on the 18U junior-national team in 2006 as well, so his age appears to be quite believable. As a 21-year-old, Martin was a reserve on the 2009 World Baseball Classic team. He’s a left-handed hitter whose best tools are his speed and defense. He’s a plus runner at least, being timed in 4.1 seconds to first base from the left side in Taiwan, and showed strong small-ball skills, with the ability to drag bunt for hits and handle the bat on the hit-and-run. He also played center field and showed at least average range.”

A quote from a Peter C. Brackman article (of BaseballdeCuba.com) about Leonys Martin and his departure from Cuba is as follows (the article is available here):

“Perhaps the only genuine surprise in INDER’s announcement of its pre-selection October roster was the absence of promising 22-year-old Villa Clara outfielder Leonys Martin, a stellar bench player on the last couple front-line national teams. The southpaw swinger has been mainly a late-inning defensive specialist in international venues but did hit a hefty .326 in last winter’s National Series for the league runner-up Orangemen. Martin apparently fled from the island late last month in the aftermath of the World University Championships, where he served as Cuba’s starting center-fielder and batted .450 (6 games) with a tournament-best 4 stolen bases.”

Now for the kicker: while news is breaking about the pending availability of Martin on the free agent market, neither Alex Anthopoulos or Tony Lacava are anywhere to be seen, and unconfirmed rumors have circled that they may be on a scouting trip of some sort. It could be a scouting trip for someone entirely different, but there is a connection that can be made between these 2 events.

Now, here’s where things get a little expensive. Jorge Arangure tweeted that Martin “Should get more than Iglesias/Hechavarria” which would put him above the $10 or $11 million mark. Well, at least he didn’t add Aroldis Chapman to the list….I find that statement a little expensive because if the Jays are only willing to pay Rajai Davis- a proven MLB commodity who stole over 50 bases and is also a top of the lineup CF who defends well – a total of $5.75 million for 2 years of service, or $8.75 million over 3 years if his option is picked up, what makes Arangure believe that Martin is worth anywhere hear $10 million as an unproven commodity? (salary information courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts).

When we see what happened to players such as Kosuke Fukudome and Juan Pierre, both of whom are heavily overpaid, we get a sense that teams may tread a little more carefully when chasing the likes of Martin. Yes, Martin has youth and international experience on his side, two things that could work into his favor when chasing a deal down.

Let’s propose for a moment that the Jays do spend a certain amount, anywhere from $5 to $15 million in return for the services of Leonys Martin over 4-5 years. What does it add to the Toronto Blue Jays organization in terms of value?

Well, it would provide a stopgap from today to the moment that Anthony Gose is ready to take over CF, and it would create a platoon scenario in LF that would likely make Rajai Davis play more often than Juan Rivera. Davis could also act as a backup to all 3 OF positions. The odd man out in this case would be newly acquired Scott Podsednik, unless, that is, the Jays can find a take for the services of Juan Rivera, which would create a Podsednik/Davis platoon in LF OR a Martin/Podsednik platoon.

Here’s a breakdown of the splits for the 3 players versus LHP, followed by versus RHP in 2010:

  • Rajai Davis: vs LHP – 138 AB/.304/.349/.435 — vs RHP – 387 AB/.276/.309/.357
  • Juan Rivera: vs LHP – 148 AB/.264/.327/.419 — vs RHP – 268 AB/.246/.304/.403
  • Scott Podsednik: vs LHP – 142 AB/.289/.322/.317— vs RHP – 397 AB/.300/.349/.406

As you can see from those stats, keeping Podsednik in the fold versus RHP seems to be the best option at this point. While I don’t have any information about Leonys Martin in terms of splits, I would expect that maintaining a Davis/Podsednik platoon in LF with Leonys Martin manning CF full time does have its benefits. It ensures that if the Jays maintain a strict platoon of Davis vs LHP and Podsednik vs RHP, they could get the following production from LF:

  • Davis: vs LHP – 138 AB/.304/.349/.435 — Podsednik vs RHP – vs RHP – 397 AB/.300/.349/.406

The problem with this approach is that it would leave both CF and LF almost devoid of any power whatsoever. Is that really an attractive look for the Jays to take in 2011, 2012, and beyond?

Acquiring Martin, assuming he jumps right up onto the big club roster quickly (by July) in 2011, would result in a Jays bench in 2011 that would have Jose Molina, John McDonald, Scott Podsednik (or Rajai Davis if platooned), and Juan Rivera (until a taker is found on the trade market, I presume). It’s not a horrible bench, but it’s certainly far from the best.

The lineup impact of having Leonys Martin on board? Well, you have to believe that he would get some time in the lower part of the order to get acclimatized to MLB pitching. Assuming that he takes on the 9th spot in the order, it would result in a lineup that looks close to this:

Once he proved himself worthy of making it to the top of the order, and that’s a huge task for him, he could be flipped for Davis/Podsednik.

The positives of adding Martin in my opinion are as follows:

  • It adds talent to the franchise, and hey, it’s not our money…right? If Rogers wants to allow Alex Anthopoulos to add more talent to the team, who are we to criticize them?
  • The Jays may be the most attractive option for Martin since they have room for him on the roster, already have a couple of Cubans in the organization in Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, and now have more Latin players on board than many other franchises. Sure, he may see Anthony Gose as a potential threat to take his spot in 2012 or 2013, but if he wants to get a shot to play on a very good club quickly, the Jays may be his best bet today.
  • Adding Martin could create more opportunity for trades to open up. As far as I know, Rajai Davisdoesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract and is signed fairly cheap over the next 2-3 years. Alex Anthopoulos could therefore offset some of the costs associated with signing Martin by dealing either Juan Rivera or Rajai Davis and would garner more assets for the club as a result.
  • For future Cuban prospects becoming free agents, this would make the Jays the most attractive landing spot BY FAR!! Cuba is still producing a ton of very interesting and talented players that the Jays may want to target in upcoming years, so adding some Cuban depth to the roster sure works to their advantage in attracting future players to Toronto.
  • Once Anthony Gose is ready to take over CF, the Jays can always decide to move Martin to another club and could stand to gain quite a bit in return if he does well in The Show.
  • With the potential promotion of Adeiny Hechavarria to take over SS from Escobar in 2011 or 2012, the Jays may be forced to move Escobar. Adding Martin to the lineup would ensure that Hechavarria has at least one other player from his homeland on the team and would thus allow for both of them to be more comfortable in Toronto.

The negatives of adding Martin in my opinion are as follows:

  • He could turn out to be a big-time bust. Not only would this make the Jays investment a bad one, but it may cause Rogers to be more apprehensive in handing Alex Anthopoulos a cheque the next time he asks to get one to pay an international free agent (such as Yu Darvish or future Cuban players).
  • The Jays have internal options that may be better than Martin in Darin Mastroianni, Eric Thames, and eventually Jacob Marisnick and Anthony Gose. If adding someone like Martin slows – or even inhibits – their chances to get a shot to prove themselves in the majors, this is a counter-productive addition. I know it is unlikely to stop the promotion of someone like Anthony Gose to take over in CF, but what happens to Martin at that point? Does he become a 4th outfielder? Is he a 4th OF option the Jays want, or do they want someone that provides some power as well as speed? I’m hoping for the latter version.
  • The bench would be fairly light hitting in 2011 (if he ever makes it to the majors this season) and his struggles at the plate could slow run production for the Jays. It will likely take some time for him to learn how to hit in MLB, so the Jays could wind up having a harder time to produce runs with him being included in the lineup.
  • His ceiling could be exactly what he’s been winning awards for: being a utility player. If that’s the case, is he worth such a big contract? Not likely.

Overall Analysis

If the Jays can get him to sign at the right price and fully believe that he can add a spark to the lineup and to CF until Anthony Gose takes over, I’m all for it with one major caveat: I don’t want the money spent on Martin to inhibit the chances that the Jays will chase other international free agents, particularly those who have more power in their swings, and also don’t want it to inhibit the amount of money spent in the 2011 draft. If those two budgets remain strong and open to any and all signings, then go get him Alex, as he’ll only add talent to the Jays and that’s always a good thing. It has to be with the right term and at the right price, but I do believe that adding him could make Adeiny Hechavarria and other Latin American Jays players more comfortable in the club house.

His presence in the lineup or on the bench may not add power or run driving ability to the Jays, but it does add a pesky presence that should be able to get on base and steal bases at a high level. Adding such a player to the core lineup of Bautista, Lind, Hill, and Snider has its benefits and could help the Jays generate more runs overall.

As I have shown above, the positives of signing Martin could outweigh the negatives if the price is right. If the Jays can entice him to come to Toronto, it would be a good thing for the franchise and would strengthen an already potent amount of youthful talent under Jays control. From what little I could find about his makeup, he seems to have an excellent batting eye, rises to the occasion on the big stage, and has more experience than most College players in terms of playing at the highest levels. As a player that could make an impact with the Jays very quickly, the investment in Martin could bring benefits much more quickly than they will with the Hechavarria signing.

That’s my argument for the Jays to sign Cuban defector Leonys Martin. Now we get to sit and watch to see which team actually does sign the young center-fielder.

– MG

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Tags: Adeiny Hechavarria Anthony Gose Jacob Marisnick Juan Rivera Leonys Martin Rajai Davis Scott Podsednik Yunel Escobar

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