Texas Rangers: Julio Pablo Martinez from Guantánamo to Arlington

SURPRISE, AZ - OCTOBER 17: Julio Pablo Martinez #40 of the Surprise Saguaros and Texas Rangers looks on during the 2018 Arizona Fall League on October 17, 2018 at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
SURPRISE, AZ - OCTOBER 17: Julio Pablo Martinez #40 of the Surprise Saguaros and Texas Rangers looks on during the 2018 Arizona Fall League on October 17, 2018 at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Today, let’s take a journey with Texas Rangers international prospect Julio Pablo Martinez’s long road from Guantanamo to Arlington, Texas

Julio Pablo Martínez demonstrated in fall of 2018 an immense talent to scouts, he was so impressive that the Texas Rangers signed him $2.8M during the international free agency period that season.

After debuting and raking in the Dominican Summer League, he then moved on to teams minor league affiliates Suprise (RK) and Spokane (A) where he hit .252 with eight homers, 21 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases.

In regards to this, Martinez would tell me: “I started my pro career slower than I expected because I was anxious and also because of the time spent away from the game. But after I got my timing everything fell into place.”

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What the scouts say

Julio has a great combination of power and speed, he is a typical leadoff hitter. He displaces himself very well in the outfield and has an average arm. He has a very flexible swing and most of his power is generated by his above-average bat speed.

Many scouts have compared him to Curtis Granderson. He is the second-rated prospect in 2019 in the Texas Rangers organization and ranked 56th in that year’s top 100.

Martínez’s Grades as per MLB scouting:

Hitting 55 / Power 55 / Speed 60 / Fielding 55 / Arm 50.

2017 World Baseball Classic

Martínez was the top centerfielder in Cuba when he was left off the 2017 Classic team. About this, he said…

"“The act of being left off the Classic really bothered me ,especially because I had been preparing for that endeavour for a long time. I think I had the talent to be on that team and it was a goal of mine. But that’s life and at the end I wasn’t selected, but that’s all in the past.”"

Some in the Cuban baseball circles say that was the final straw for the young outfielder and contributed to his defection.

International and professional play

Martínez got his first international experience in the 2015 Premier with the Antilleans. “I gained a lot of experience in that the Premier 12, especially facing professional pitching for the first time in my life. The tournament was a learning experience and has served as a lesson me to this day,” Martinez told me.

The young outfielder also made a brief incursion in the Can-Am in 2016 with the Cuban national team and hit .231, this leads to him being signed a year later by the Eagles of Trois-Rivieres.

"“The Can-Am is a little different from the Cuban National Series in many aspects, to start off the league very demanding on the body. I played 18 games straight without rest, that doesn’t happen in Cuba. Sometimes we would play games after nine hours of travel. I also found that the pitching was slightly above Cuba’s, a lot of these pitchers were signed by Major League ball clubs.”"

Arizona Fall League

Martínez served notice that he was a force to be reckoned with in the  2018 Arizona Fall League, in which he was part of the Suprise Saguaros. In 13 games with the desert he .327 with a round-tripper, nine runs batted in and stole four bases.

This included a game in which he hit for the cycle, on October 22,

"“I was convinced that I would do better in the Arizona Fall League because of the jump in competition, I tend to adapt to the level of talent I am facing, this dates back to Cuba and all the way through Canada. I tend to rise to the occasion as the competition gets harder, we call this [pelota caliente]hot baseball in Cuba.”"

Fall from Grace

Although he hit 14 homers, 21 doubles and drove in 58 runs in 2019 for Down Eastwood (A+). He hit a paltry .248  and this caused to descend to 26 on the top 30 prospect list for Texas.

Although he missed some time due to injuries a 33.7% strikeout rate might have contributed to his descent within the organization prospect list.

Overconfidence and lack of pitch recognition might have also contributed to his fall in the organizational ladder. Martinez also struggled against lefties due to the fact that the Cuban National Series lacks quality southpaws explained Texas Rangers scout Jose Rafael Fernández.

He has been working with scout this winter. When I asked Fernández about the off-season workouts with the prospect he replied, ” We have worked on his pitch recognition and also on him keeping his hands back. A lot of his strikeouts last year were because he was out in front of off-speed pitches. We have also given him a steady diet of left-handed pitching to given him more AB against southpaws.”

Remembering and returning

The 2015-16 season was his best in Cuba when he reinforced the National Series runner up, the Pirates of the Isle of Youth. Martinez recalled his time there to me:

"“Playing for the Isle of Youth was one of my best time in Cuba as a baseball player, I never thought I would be selected to reinforce that squad because of my youth at the time. It was the first place as a ball player I experienced some much love from the general public, on and off the field. From that Series on all of Cuba knew what I was capable of as a ball player.”"

That season he slashed .333/.469/.498, hit six homers and stole 29 bases.

Like most who have left the island, Martínez would one day like to return to his native Guantánamo and play for his hometown Indians under the right circumstances:

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"“I would love to one day get another at-bat with Guantánamo, in my hometown stadium and in front of the people who watched me grow up. That would be a beautiful thing. Hopefully one day that dream will be a reality. “"