The Argument for the Jays to Sign Cuban Leonys Martin

image courtesy fo Daylife.com

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

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  • Steve

    If the Jays are interested in Martin and they do, in fact, sign him, I would see him spending all of 2011 in the minors. Unless they play themselves out of contention or are injured, I see a Podsednik/Rivera platoon in LF with Davis starting in centre and Patterson backing up all positions. For 2012, Davis is the only one who will still be around. You are right about the right/left splits for the Jays outfielders but I have been seeing it as a LF platoon of Podsednik and Rivera. Their right/left splits match up very well and they could make an intersting pairing. With teams now going with 7 man bullpens, I think that you try to avoid platoons, but that might be the best option the Jays have for LF in 2011. I don’t think there is a Fred Lewis type to be found this year and I don’t see much of a market devloping for Rivera. I also don’t think any of their prospects are close enough. For what its worth, Davis and Patterson also have interesting left/right splits, but I see Davis starting and Patterson (if he makes the team) as a back up.

    • Mat Germain

      I’ll play my own devil’s advocate here: What happens if/when Lawrie comes up to take over at 3B and Bautista heads to RF while Snider shifts to LF?

      I say that Davis becomes the 4th outfielder, which makes all of the others less impactful bench options.

      You could be right about him spending all of 2011 in the minors, but where? I’d like to think that he’d begin the year in AA or AAA, but you have Gose likely to man CF in AA (Loewen and Thames in LF/RF), and the OF is already full in AAA with either Mastroianni or Perales manning CF (Lane and Patterson in LF/RF), so where do you put Martin? He likely could take someone’s spot in AAA while the player he replaces comes up to man a bench spot for the Jays. But, I would contend that the Jays will look to make a deal or two and that if he does well from the beginning, he could be with the Jays by July as I stated above. Either way, he should make it to the Jays before Gose if he’s as advanced as the reports say he is at the plate.

  • monkeyman

    No way Thames spends another year in AA at 24. Lane is waiver fodder and Perales is fringe. Mastro, Thames and Loewen are graduating to the Vegas outfield with Paterson either making the team (likely) or being given release to find work elsewhere. I think Martin could come in and start at AA and would be excited about his ability to push Mastro and/or Loewen as the year evolves and Gose moving up to AA when that occurs and he’s shown he can handle higher levels of pitching. Thames is the most underrated Jays prospect because of his injury issues costing him 2 years of development. I see all-star potential in 2012-2013 from him.

    • Mat Germain

      Love the enthusiasm monkeyman and I hope you’re right on many of your thoughts.

  • Mylegacy

    Bearing in mind it’s not my money – I say take a pass on Mr Martin. A Cuban too far in my mind.

    A 22 year old who’s, “best tools are speed and defense.” with “small ball skills” and an “ability to drag bunts for hits” who has “played cf” and while there has shown “at least average range.” MEH…

    I say stick with Gose and Darin – Gose at worse looks as good as Martin. Gose could have some serious pop as well. However – if getting him won’t impact our ability to go after some higher end guys – like a certain Japanese pitcher – for instance – then why not…

    • Mat Germain

      I don’t disagree with you at all Mylegacy. I do think that those who support a Martin signing would say that nothing is ever guaranteed in this game, particularly when it comes to prospects. You don’t have to look any further than Cameron Maybin to realize that you can have all of the talent in the world and still have a hard time making it in The Show.

      Definitely agree with the Japanese pitcher line, he has to be target #1 at this point.

      • George

        IMHO, if you want a light hitting 4th outfielder with some speed and a good arm, Darin comes much cheaper, and would likely fit in just as well as Martin.

  • theo adorno

    Viva Cuba, Viva Fidel, Patria o Muerte, Venceramos!

  • J M

    Nice article, very detailed. But is it necessary to call the guy “cuban defector” more than once?

    • Mat Germain

      Thanks for the compliment J M…but, should we not call Brett Lawrie a Canadian more than once? Having it in the title and is different than having it in the piece….it has to match up! I’m glad that you enjoyed the piece though!

      • theo adorno

        Cuban national may work. “Defector” is a thinly veiled attack on the Cuban social and economic system.

        • Mat Germain

          I would never want to make things political on this site, or any other. However, I would indicate that when you are forced to “sneak” out of the country due to its political system, you are in fact defecting.

          Out of respect to all Cubans, I did take “Defector” out of the title and out of the piece.

          • BB

            Are you serious? You let some random commenter browbeat you into editing the article and title?

            Leonys Martin, like Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria and hundreds of others, is a Cuban defector. End of story. Tell the Fidel lovers and P.C. whiners to go to hell.

  • mathesond

    My only nit-pick is that I didn’t read what position he played until the end of the Baseball America excerpt. As for good field/no power CF? Sounds a bit like Juan Pierre, hopefully with a better arm. Still not sure I’d make him a top priority, but I can understand why selected brass would want to check him out.

  • Pingback: Jays Journal: Leonys Martin, Richard Thon, Spring Notes, and Links « Jays Journal | A Toronto Blue Jays Blog

  • Rob Bott

    Also, don’t you have to look at that money being put into the draft possibly to pay over slot, is there not likely some player who falls to the Jays at 21 or 35 that will want higher slot money and maybe worth it more than Martin?

    • Mat Germain

      It could be, but you have to look at this option in the same way as the Adeiny Hechavarria signing. The reason the Jays were willing to pay more than $10 million for him is due to many reasons. First, they forego many years of his development and the initial bonus someone with his skills would ask for, so there’s a few million. Then, you also have to look at the fact that if they’re correct in assessing the player, they’re essentially buying another 1st round pick that they’ll have under control for many years to come. How much money is that worth? Instead of having to go out and grab a top of the order FA CF, that is.

      Also, the 2 amounts (international and draft) are amounts that have to be authorized by Rogers either way. So, as long as they’re willing to pay the amount without reducing the ability to grab other players, it’s a good addition in depth and talent. (imo)

  • http://EKAK Steve

    It’s absolutely idiotic to try making a claim of whether the Jays should sign this kid or not until more reports on him surface…

    So far he could be anywhere from being an old mediocre outfield prospect to a 20 million dollar bonus baby type potential…

    My point is, who knows? It’s like arguing over who makes the best coffee in the year 3112, either it MarsBucks or Gorden Shumway’s Mocha Cafe from the planet MalMac.. We don’t know enough facts to makes any sort of assertions….

    • Mat Germain

      Who’s making any assertions? All I did was to gather what we do know about him from the most renowned experts in the prospect world and made a case that he could make sense as a Jays prospect.

      What in the world could be wrong with that?

      Thanks for the comment Steve, but truthfully, I don’t understand why you feel the need to attack this post. It doesn’t make sense whatsoever and is really unproductive.

      If you don’t want to gain any additional information about prospects or to ponder about the fun things in the baseball world, feel free to read articles about what has happened – in places such as newspapers – instead of Jays Journal – because what we do here is different and more in-depth coverage of the Jays. Plain and simple. If it’s not for you, then we’d like to thank you for your time and hope that you’ll come around to the value in our posts in the future.

      Btw, we’re not arguing, we’re making a case, and those are two totally different things.