Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan was asked in a pre-game interview on Sunday how much of a surprise Gustavo Martinez has been for the Williamsport Crosscutters.
Jordan's answer was simple. His strong play hasn't been a surprise at all.
The diminutive center fielder has been a sparkplug at the top of the Williamsport order since being assigned to the Crosscutters at the end of extended spring training. He entered Monday night's series opener with State College hitting .317 with an on-base percentage north of .360 as he's helped Williamsport produce one of the top offenses in the New York-Penn League.
"We saw him play quite a bit, first down in Venezuela, but then in instructional league for about a month last year," Jordan said following batting practice at Bowman Field on Monday. "He's just a kid who knows how to play the game. He's a very good outfielder, he's instinctive on the bases, at the play and in center field. And it's easy to see the more you watch him play."
Martinez made the jump to the New York-Penn League this year after spending the last two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League. He broke out last year as an 18-year old, hitting .312 with 72 hits in only 61 games played.
His season with the Crosscutters is the first time he's played in meaningful games in America since being signed as an international free in 2011. He got the opportunity to come to Williamsport when the Phillies decided to push 17-year old Venezuelan Carlos Tocci to Lakewood to start the season.
Martinez hasn't disappointed. He's been the consummate leadoff hitter as the Cutters have gotten themselves to the top of the Pinckney Division standings in the first two weeks of the season. He's tough to strike out, he puts the ball in play and he puts the barrel on the baseball. He's been exactly what manager Nelson Prada has been looking for in a leadoff hitter.
"He fights at the plate and he uses his hands, and he's not easy to strike out," Prada said. "He uses the opposite field which is good. He can hit all over the field, but he uses the opposite field real well with two strikes."
But what the Phillies, and Jordan in particular, rave about with Martinez are his natural instincts for the game. His individual tools may not be the most awe-inspiring, but he has a feel for the game.
He covers ground defensively as he glides across the field. He's capable of stealing bases (38 in two-plus minor league seasons), and more importantly as a leadoff batter, he gets on base at a .344 clip for his career.
"In our organization, the more you watch a player player, and when they make game decisions in the heat of the moment, when something happens, that's when you can identify instincts," Jordan said. "It gives you a little more comfort in maybe pushing a guy a level. You know maybe he won't quite be ready with the bat the first two months, but he'll help them in center field, and he'll be able to contribute until the game starts slowing down and the other parts of the game can factor in."
Here's the rest of the Sun-Gazette's question and answer session with Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.
Q: It's amazing how many of the players drafted just a couple weeks ago are already in the system. How much better is this new signing deadline and getting players into the system?
A: It's huge because it gives us all summer to get to know them and their strengths and weaknesses and helps us prepare for instructional league, versus getting a guy signed August 15 and we don't see them play and we go off what the scout saw. But we get a first-hand look at these kids now for over two months. It's great really.
Q: How much more prepared are players for their second season now that they get a couple months of work after signing?
A: It's big because you have to get through the orientation part of it because we have different routines, throwing routines and hitting routines. There's all kinds of different philosophies that they can go through during the summer versus having to go through it all in four weeks in instructional league. By doing it that way and in instructional league, by the time spring training rolls around, they feel like they're a part of this. They're comfortable with everything. So hopefully they can relax and play sooner.
Q: Has Carlos Tocci surpassed expectations in Lakewood, or did you think he was capable of going there and hitting .230 or .240?
A: Honestly, we probably had more discussion about if that was the right thing to do. He has tremendous feel to play the game of baseball. He has all the intangibles that we just talked about. The group felt like let's give it a shot, let's do it. He's done what we thought he would do, but it's encouraging that he's done that.
Q: Was the plan to keep him Lakewood all year, or was the plan to at some point bring him back to Williamsport until he showed he could handle the level?
A: Any time we send a player to a full-season club, our expectation is for them to be there all summer. Obviously, we always have this fall back plan if things don't work out. We were hoping he could handle it and be there all summer.
Q: Everybody keeps saying he needs to get bigger and stronger, but is that going to just be a part of the maturation process of a 17-year old kid?
A: Absolutely. We're waiting on strength. He has a lot of qualities. Really good stuff. But we're just waiting on strength, and it may not be there for two or three years. But he gained a little weight last winter, and he'll do that again this winter. It'll happen when it happens, probably two, three or four years from now. But he's done well.
Q: A couple offseasons ago the organization kept Freddy Galvis in Florida during the offseason to get bigger. Is that the plan with Carlos?
A: I think right now, he's younger than Freddy was when they did that program with him. We'll probably keep him on the same program we had last year with the supplements and the nutrition and then obviously the weight training, but he's probably a year or two away from something in Florida. And he probably needs to go home and see his family, too.
Q: Is there a scenario you could see where he goes to AAA at some point this year, or is it just too soon to say 10 games or so into his AA season?
A: The plan is for him to finish the summer in Reading. It'll be a tremendous summer if he continues just to contribute. But it's a lot like Asche did last year where he split the summer in half between the two and it worked out well. Franco's where he needs to be, and if he finishes the year there that'll be just fine.
Q: Are you excited to see him in the Futures Game?
A: He belongs there. He belongs in the conversation when people are trying to talk about minor league prospects that have a chance to be an impact type player in the major leagues. He belongs in that. The fact he's in the Futures Game is appropriate for me.
Q: Do you feel like the system is on the doorstep of really being able to help the big league club?
A: We have some guys that are really close to being ready to help those guys. We've been bitten by the injury bug a little bit, but we've managed around it. We have some players at AAA that if the situation presents itself that we could help the major league team. We have players in AA who are close to being ready for AAA. We have some good players in the system and we're fortunate that some of them are in the upper levels in AA and AAA. I think we're pretty healthy there.
Q: Has it been a lost season for Tommy Joseph, or is there still time to turn it around and have a solid season?
A: He's playing with our Florida State League team right now, and we're doing that because right now that's just where he needs to be. He really got set back with the concussion. But he's healthy and I think he's a little hesitant to totally let himself go. But the only way to get over that is to play him. So we felt like it was better there than AA or AAA. Lost season? No. Has it been an unfortunate season? Yes. He's still got a chance to get back to AA or AAA and then we can recoup at-bats this winter somewhere. And that's the plan because he needs to go get a couple hundred at-bats once we're through playing, that he missed.
Q: Has it been easier to be cautious with him because Cameron Rupp has played so well and handled AAA?
A: Well, hopefully we would have handled it the same way no matter what. With these types of situations, you have to do what your medical people say. Cameron has made it a little easier to manage because he's been able to go up there and contribute. He's doing a good job behind the plate. Hopefully it's a sign that our system is getting stronger when something does happen to a very important player, that we do have players that can pick up the slack.
Q: Larry Greene Jr. is starting to pick things up here in the last couple weeks. Are you starting to see the things you like about Larry and the way he's handling himself?
A: I like Larry Greene's ability. The hitter, the power hitter that Marti and his staff saw in high school is still there, but he's going to have to make a commitment. The commitment has to be to himself and to us. Day 1, he has to be ready to go. It's hard to play catch-up in this league. In the Sally League or any league, you're facing good pitching every night and they don't really care if you're ready to play. We're going to get him back on track and where he needs to be, and then it's going to be up to him. Twice he hasn't done what he needs to do, but hopefully that'll be the end of that and he'll come into spring training next year and be ready to go.
Q: Are the good things we're seeing from Larry Green him just starting to get into a rhythm?
A: I think so. But it's hard when you're not physically ready to compete. And when you're young and you play poorly, it snowballs on you. I think that's what happened with him, he bottomed out and he clawed his way out and he's starting to work his way north. Again, he can do that. Larry Greene is a good player. He just needs to do some things that he has to do to be a professional. He owes to himself.