Can Leonys Martin Thrive Where Few Others Have?
Center field for the Seattle Mariners is a position that will always be tied to hall of famer, Ken Griffey Jr. The things Junior did for this team are legendary. Legends often cast very large, dark shadows over their followers.
In the case of Griffey’s shadow, it is very big, dark, and outside of the very likable, charismatic young man that was traded for Griffey, Mike Cameron, the Mariners have seen little light emanating from center field.
I don’t want to make light of the work Cameron put in for Seattle. Defensively, he was a gem. Offensively, he struck out a lot but he did manage to hit four homers in a single game, albeit in Yankee stadium and much to Brett Boone’s chagrin. Still, he was a career bat of less than .250. It was either a whiff or a bomb for Cameron on most nights.
The Mariners came up with another brief spark in Franklin Gutierrez, who of course is back with the team in a bench/platoon role these days. Franklin never really had a problem with his numbers, he just had a problem staying on the field because of health concerns. When he was out there, he was brilliant. We just didn’t get to see it often enough to really cast Griffey’s shadow aside.
Now we have another new face gracing the #8 spot defensively for the M’s. He’s none other than Leonys Martin, the man the Mariners acquired from the Texas Rangers during the past off season.
Martin is also the man that we have to call “somewhat distracted” given that his former agent, Bart Hernandez, has been arrested for human trafficking as it pertains to Cuban players making their way to the US.
Martin’s path to Cuban defection is just one example of the very dark side of Major League Baseball that we often ignore. With Hernandez’s arrest, it’s likely that Martin’s defection could be the one that finally shines light into this evil corner of the baseball world. With that much scrutiny, could Martin maintain his focus on playing baseball well enough to be successful for the Mariners?
The defection situation aside, Martin has been impressive as a young major leaguer, at least at times. After signing with the Rangers in 2011, Martin became their full time centerfielder in 2013. He hit .260 that year and followed up that season with a .274 season in 2014. During both of those years Martin’s incredible defensive ability was on display nearly every night.
Martin’s hot start in the big leagues slowed considerably during the 2015 season. He posted an average of just .219 with an OB% of just .264. Those are not the kind of on base numbers Mariners GM, Jerry Dipoto, expects out of any of his players at any position.
During the 2015 season Martin’s poor offensive showing got him kicked out of the Ranger’s lead off role and eventually demoted to AAA when he still couldn’t get back on track. For the Mariners, he’ll get his chance to play at the MLB level again but he’ll be stuck at the bottom of the order, at least to begin the 2016 season.
For the Mariners, their projected #9 hitter is a gamble. Dipoto is betting that Martin can regain his 2013-14 form. Of course he made this bet before Hernandez was arrested. Either way, it’s a pretty safe gamble to make because I think Dipoto believes he has enough offense hitting ahead of Martin.
I think it’s certainly possible that those guys could do enough offensively to lift the M’s over the .500 hurdle. Without Martin rebounding however, the M’s chances are less and we could easily still be longing for a center fielder capable of hitting .300.