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April 20, 2012

What You Need to Know

Friday, April 20

by Daniel Rathman

The Thursday Takeaway
On February 29, the BP team pitched 14 breakout candidates for the 2012 season. If the first two weeks are any indication, though, we may have missed a big one.

There aren’t many bright spots on the Astros, who are 5-8 to start the year and may struggle to maintain even that .385 winning percentage through the summer. But outfielder J.D. Martinez—who .274/.319/.423 as a rookie in 2011—has officially announced his arrival by emerging as one of the hottest hitters in the league through 13 games.

Kevin Goldstein ranked Martinez, a 24-year-old plucked by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 draft, as the team’s eighth-best prospect heading into last season, projecting a second-division starter ceiling. Martinez is not particularly athletic or fast, but his minor-league track record, which included a .342/.407/.551 triple slash over two-plus years, left little doubt about his hitting ability.

It may not have translated immediately, but it’s certainly showing up now. After a day off on Wednesday, Martinez returned to manager Brad Mills’ lineup on Thursday and went 2-for-5, raising his average to .326 in the 11-4 win over the Nationals. Tack on three doubles, three homers (including the first regular-season home run at the new Marlins ballpark), and seven walks in 53 plate appearances, and the result is a 1.002 OPS.

Martinez’s early surge is being buoyed in part by a sky-high BABIP and HR/FB rate, but he has shown the uncanny ability to punish mistakes and get the barrel on the ball. The increase in walks—from about one per 17 plate appearances last year to more than one per eight so far this year—is also promising.

Some regression in Martinez’s numbers is inevitable, but fans at Minute Maid Park may once again have a homegrown stud to get excited about. That’s something they have not had since fellow outfielder Hunter Pence graduated from the system five years ago.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Before any baseball is played this weekend, online voting will begin for the 2012 All-Star Game and Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium. We are 13 games into the season, and, apparently, that’s enough to judge who belongs in Kansas City on July 9-10. Just one request: Vote for Giancarlo Stanton in the National League Home Run Derby fan poll.
  • What happens when a human piñata meets a scuffling superstar? We may get the answer to that question tomorrow, when a still out-of-sorts Brian Matusz takes the mound in Anaheim and Albert Pujols digs into the batter’s box. Matusz was taken deep an incredible 18 times in 49 2/3 innings last year, and he’s already surrendered two homers in 9 2/3 frames to date. Pujols, meanwhile, is homerless in his first 52 plate appearances with the Angels. They’ll both be looking to get back on track on Friday night (10:05 p.m. ET).
  • One hundred miles south in San Diego, and also at 10:05 p.m. ET, another eminently movable object will meet another effortlessly stoppable force. Padres starter Edinson Volquez has walked more batters (12) than anyone in the National League over his first three starts. But the Phillies (among teams that have already played their 13th game) are dead last in the majors with only 22 combined walks. To put that in perspective, Padres third baseman Chase Headley has already drawn 13 free passes by himself. The question is whose malaise Volquez will cure—the Phillies’ or his own.
  • There will be plenty of heat on display in Detroit in Saturday’s matinee (1:05 p.m. ET) between the Rangers and Tigers. Neftali Feliz—whose fastball has averaged 93.7 mph, tied for 10th among starters since he moved to the rotation—will square off with Justin Verlander, who sits in seventh at 94.1 mph. Texas (11-2) and Detroit (9-4) enter the weekend as the two best teams in the American League to this point. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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