Among the fun parts of my baseball summer is following the Dominican Summer League. As the rest of the world works, watches daytime television, or otherwise whiles away time until noon or so, I have two Cubs pipeline games to monitor in the most crude, old-fashioned way possible. I watch box scores develop. The players on the teams have virtually no actionable information, but games are evolving by the half-inning update. Today's focus, Pedro Martinez, spent a season in the Dominican League.
Many of the possible system advancements by Theo Epstein have been short-circuited. When in Boston, his Red Sox added extra draft picks by trading for lapsing contracts. A decent number of those June choices were "higher risk" high school players. Plenty provided no particular value, but the Red Sox pipeline was rarely barren. Upon his arrival in Chicago, draft and international spending began to get more limited as time progressed. Nonetheless, the Cubs have two teams in the DSL, and nobody has more than two.
The DSL is an entire departure from the traditional "win or else" mindset. Teams would like to win every game, obviously. However, giving second- and third-tier players a chance is the best method. If a player was signed in the first place is a hint that the club buys into them. As such, the 30-35 players on both teams are usually given a chance each season to sink or swim.
To an extent, the goal from a fan perspective with the recently renamed Red and Blue teams every year is to assess which bin each player belongs. Some will shine in Boca Chica, and earn a likely trip to Mesa the next spring. Others will be either under water, or too old too be considered valid retention options, and will get released. Most, though, will be invited to come back to play the next season with the new recruits. The hope is to send a quality contingent to Mesa every season, and play competitive ball with both squads, regardless the record. Advancement upgrades the pipeline. Wins are nice, but incidental.
The switch-hitting Martinez was signed just before the 2018 DSL campaign began. As most major signings are in July (or on the player's 16th birthday), a May addition, when most of the spending pool has been burned through in July or August, hints that Martinez was an afterthought. "We'll give you a contract and a roster spot if you sign for $10,000" would be my guess. And he proceeded to get three hits in his first 24 at-bats. If winning were paramount, or the Cubs had only one DSL squad, what would you have done with a low-bonus guy off to a slow start?
In early June, he rattled off a 13-game stretch where he had multiple hits in seven games. Over a seven-game stretch in late June, the bargain-basement dumpster-dive had multiple hits in five games, with three hits in four of them. Martinez had pulled off the college football equivalent of getting chosen as a walk-on just before school started to being a starter for the conference opener.
Martinez jumped to Mesa for 2019 because he'd earned it. In 27 Arizona League games, the afterthought hit .352 with two homers, and stole eight bases. At mid-season, he was promoted to Eugene, where his OPS was a very respectable .704 as a player 2.8 years younger than the pitchers he was facing. All things considered, he's in line for a spot with South Bend in April at second, third, or shortstop. Here’s some video of him from last August 9:
His meteoric rise begs a rather obvious question. If players can so outplay their signing bonuses given playing time, why does roughly half the league only employ one DSL squad? Martinez is an outlier, but players develop at their pace, not ours. It's not that difficult to locate talent to test out in the DSL. I'm glad a few teams are being run in a very penny-wise pound-foolish fashion like that.
Martinez appears on many a Top 30 Cubs prospect list. My guess is a few teams will be inquiring about him in July as trade talks heat up. I'm glad the idea of "outbidding the Cubs for his services in the first place" wasn't a priority. The Porlamar, Venezuela native has two more seasons until he's even Rule 5 Draft-eligible. All for a very low five-figure signing bonus. And in early June, two Cubs DSL affiliates will be playing six games per week with no streaming audio or video. I'll be tracking both games regularly to try to give you a heads-up on the next Pedro Martinez.