J.D. Martinez was left for dead by the Houston Astros – the only organization he’s known -- at the waning moments of Spring Training. His long efforts to return from hand injuries and reinventing his swing that seemed to pay off in Venezuela was for naught.
Luckily he had an admirer in the Detroit Tigers, who had their eye on Martinez as early as last year and even attempted to acquire him in the Winter Meetings. Two days after being waived by the Astros, Martinez signed with the Tigers and made his debut three weeks into the season.
Trusting in Martinez has paid off recently. Martinez is batting .300 and slugging .570 with six home runs and 22 RBI. Half of those home runs came in the Tigers’ four-game series against the Kansas City Royals, including a grand slam on Monday.
Martinez’s career with the Astros was derailed because of injuries yet now all of his opportunities with the tigers came from the injuries of others. Andy Dirks injury opened the door for Martinez and now Tori Hunter’s injury has him in the lineup more often. It helps now that he had a good showing against Kansas City.
"He's swinging the bat well,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “You have to keep him in there. With Torii not feeling great with his hamstring, until Torii's ready, he'll get some playing time."
Martinez is now enjoying playing with catcher Alex Avila after being high school rivals nearly a decade ago. Martinez overcame the Archbishop’s big, bad battery of Avila and Danny Farqhuar – now with the Seattle Mariners – and other prep stars currently Major Leaguers including Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to win back-to-back Florida state championships in 2005-06.
Despite his success, Martinez didn’t feel quite ready for the professional level. So he choose to stay home and play for Nova Southeastern University rather than sign with the Minnesota Twins who selected him in the 36th round of the 2006 MLB Draft.
“I can honestly say I never really developed until I was in college,” Martinez said. “In high school, I did well, but I didn’t do really, really well. I always hit fourth on the state championship team, but I never really stood out and made a big impression.”
After two college seasons and two years of minor league baseball, Martinez became the first player from Nova Southeastern to reach the big leagues. He still remembers the day he made his Major League debut.
“My heart was racing 100 miles an hour,” said Martinez who came in to replace Hunter Pence after being traded to Philadelphia. “Usually you have the sky as a background. It was so weird. I felt so tiny on the field.”
After haunting Hosmer again, Martinez sure doesn’t feel tiny on the field now. While with the Astros, Martinez further defined his place in South Florida baseball lore by hitting the first ever home run in the newly built Marlins Park back in 2012.
Tori Hunter is expected to return to the lineup either on Saturday or Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. Nevertheless, Ausmus must now somehow find a way to keep Martinez’s bat in the lineup.