The Situation: The Astros’ bullpen is gassed after having to piece together nine innings for then-scratched and now-DL’ed ace Dallas Keuchel yesterday, and the club will turn to Martes as an option to cover a couple innings as necessary out of the bullpen. The club’s top prospect hasn’t worked since June 1, and stands to make his big-league debut despite an up-and-down season through eight starts in the Pacific Coast League.
The Background: Signed by the Marlins as an unheralded international prospect in November of 2012, Martes was identified by an Astros scout Alex Jacobs on the back fields in Florida and summarily plucked as the anonymous sixth man in a 2014 deadline deal that swapped Jake Marisnick and Jarred Cosart as the principles. He began breaking out in the Midwest League the following summer, before continuing to dominate on up through a brief stint in High-A and finishing the year with a cup of coffee at Double-A. He cracked his first BP 101 that off-season, checking in at no. 63, then spent all of 2016 in the Texas League, where he recovered from a poor start to post outstanding numbers over the season’s final four months as one of the youngest hurlers on the circuit. We named him the 28th-best prospect in baseball this winter.
Scouting Report: Martes boasts one of the best top-two arsenals in all of minor-league baseball, with a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s and will threaten triple digits. It’s a riding pitch that holds plane effectively and pops late on hitters, allowing him to generate empty swings in and above the zone despite fringe-average movement. He likes to work the pitch north-south, but as he’s advanced on up the ladder he has struggled at times with both his command of the pitch and consistency at the bottom of the zone. An increase in fly-ball contact has ensued, with an inordinate amount of it finding bleacher seats so far this spring. His curveball is a potentially elite hook, giving him a second 70 offering. The pitch comes in at slider speed with hard, two-plane bite, and it works as both a chase pitch and a strike-stealer early in counts. He boasts the salesmanship and moderate tumble of an above-average changeup as well, though he has been unable to command the pitch consistently enough to date.
Martes has struggled—mightily at times—with repeatability and pitch-to-pitch execution this season, and Triple-A hitters have obliged his bouts of wildness with patience and frequent slow trots to first base. While fine command projection has never been the centerpiece of his appeal, Martes has demonstrated surprising athleticism for his body type and the physicality to suggest enough control to lead a rotation one day in spite of it. It’s easy to forget he’s still just 21, and the struggles against polished Triple-A hitters should not be taken as conclusive of anything other than a 21-year-old struggling against polished Triple-A hitters.
Immediate Big League Future: While the door remains open for a future role anchoring somebody’s rotation, Martes’ first taste of The Show will come when the bullpen door swings open, and how long he stays at the highest level will likely be informed – at least in part – by how quickly he adapts. It certainly doesn’t require too much of a squint to envision a scenario where his nasty stuff plays up in short bursts and he emerges as a key cog in Houston’s bullpen for the duration of the year, though the smart money suggests a shorter stay followed by additional seasoning back at Fresno. One might also be forgiven for seeing this debut through the lens of the front-running Astros exposing their best potential trade chip to the bright lights several weeks before the deadline, as well. —Wilson Karaman
Fantasy Impact: After coming to the Astros in the famed Jarred Cosart Deal of '14, Martes burst onto the scene as a dynasty prospect with a breakout stint as a 19-year-old at Quad Cities. He quickly received promotions to both High-A and Double-A in that same year. The cherubic righty pitched well again last season in Double-A, spending the entire year at Corpus Christi, and striking out over a batter per inning. He started this season at Triple-A, barely old enough to order a beer. It hasn't gone super well. The stuff is electric, but it's also everywhere. Martes is striking out over 10 batters per nine, but he's also walking nearly eight in the same span en route to a 9.80 DRA.
The Astros have already made it clear that they're calling on Martes to get his feet wet in the big leagues as a reliever, and with his control issues, that's probably not a bad idea. Plenty of hurlers have been eased into a future rotation role by starting in the pen, so this isn't really a kiss of death for fantasy purposes. It would be hard to rely on Martes with confidence right now, due to the sheer population he allows on the bases, but the fact that he will be used as a reliever further puts a ceiling on his fantasy value for this year. If Martes somehow solves his control issues or if Dallas Keuchel's injury proves to be more severe and a rotation spot opens up, then maybe we can talk. For dynasty leagues, however, Martes should remain very much on the radar, as the stuff is nasty. —Mark Barry
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