2024 MLBPro100 #3: After Finding The Answer, Alonso Martinez is Surrounded By Questions

Alonso Martinez understands it.

On the other hand….no, he does not.

The Colorado Rockies Tampa Bay Rays third baseman, fresh off the single-greatest batting season in NL history, is starting over.


Martinez, who finished with the first batting triple crown in NL history, had found his answer. The journeyman found ultimate success in Colorado, his fourth MLB team, and sixth franchise.

He became a star, then a superstar and MVP. He won a World Series.

Now, at 29, he has nothing but questions. This, of course, comes after his all-too-surprising-and-not trade to Tampa.

The same can be said for those around the league, as well as those observers ready and waiting to cast judgment on his legacy.

Before those questions get explored, let’s shed a little light on Martinez, a fifth-round pick (130th overall) by Colorado. Any draft pick ever made is a dart throw; for every story like Martinez, there is one about Ismael Baez. Baez was selected 23rd overall by Boston in the same draft. Another high school kid, Baez got off to a great start. He hit .292-7-43, with 57 runs, 43 BB and 49 K in 52 G (209 AB). That was as a 17-year-old.

Unfortunately, it did not sustain. There were glimpses, of course. Hitting .329/.394/.543 in A+ Salem in 2015. (He was just 20.) Hitting .325/.415/.511 in AA Birmingham in 2019, netting him a Southern League All-Star spot. But that came at 24, after spending most of 2016 and 2018 in AAA.

Baez got a cup o’ joe (ha, old column pun) with the White Sox in 2021, hitting .167/.265/.300 in 34 PA. He is now 29, and coming off a .239/.283/.332 season…back in AA.

The point: Draft success can be a difficult needle to thread. Talent is only one aspect.

In Martinez’ case, scouts saw something early. Despite a slow, and brief, 2012 (.222/.222/.333 in 9 PA), he found himself on the MLBPro Prospect Handbook Top 100, at #77. The general report was a harbinger of what was to come: Quick bat, good wrists, has plus-plus power potential. Excellent with the glove.

Martinez was slow to make good on that report, though. He didn’t start hitting until 2015, when he hit .289/.409/.443-7-35 (142 OPS+) in 305 PA as a 20-year-old in A- ball. He won both the Northwest League MVP and Gold Glove award that season.

Yet, by 2016, he was back in rookie ball. For the entire season.

Yeah, the Rockies weren’t always a top-flight franchise. In this case, they nearly punted Martinez’ future away by the end of the 2016 season.

By the end of 2016, though, Martinez’ future changed forever. But that change came two-fold.

First, he was traded, along with four other players, to Cleveland, as part of the Mike Minor deal. Only one of those players, SS Carlos Martinez (Brewers), is still in the league. Even Minor, just 28 at the time of the trade, is retired; he went 15-17 for Colorado, leading the league in walks in 2018. He did not pitch in 2019, and retired in 2020.

The second piece of this puzzle came in the Rule V draft, where Toronto took him in the fourth round (120th overall). In the course of a year, he was an All-Star, a rookie ball afterthought, and a major leaguer.

Martinez wound up as the starting third baseman for a Blue Jays team coming off a 105-win season in 2016. He hit .247/.315/.365, with six homers, 22 RBI, and 17 steals, in 340 PA in 2017, then followed that up with a .271/.331/.466 mark (118 OPS+) in 146 PA in 2018…

…before he was traded to the White Sox. This one was more legitimate than Mike Minor; Martinez was moved for Ronald Acuna and Donald Taylor.

Martinez spent only the rest of 2018 in Chicago; in the offseason, he was moved to Cincinnati.

Oh wait. No, not yet. 

Chicago traded Martinez to the New York Yankees, along with Joe Musgrove, getting Juan Francisco back. Francisco only spent 72 games with the White Sox, before getting moved to the Phillies for pitcher Daniel Espino, who made his debut (with Cincinnati) earlier this year. Martinez never played an inning for the Yankees, getting moved 3/19/19, along with Musgrove and journeyman infielder Chris Brown (retired). This was the semi-infamous Arinori Arai homecoming.

It was with Cincinnati in 2019 that Martinez began to blossom; he hit .276/.338/.458-24-73 (124 OPS+), with 28/42 steals, in his first full season as a regular. He improved upon that in 2020, earning his first All-Star nomination with Cincinnati.

Except…wait, no. That’s wrong. Mostly.

Martinez DID earn his first All-Star nomination, and that was with Cincinnati. He hit .295/.330/.448 (120 OPS+), with 9 homers, 22 RBI, and 11/16 SB. The issue here is that, when the All-Star game arrived, Martinez was a Colorado Rockie. The Reds traded him there on June 9, in exchange for Nate Pearson and two minor leaguers.

From there, most know the story. Martinez has steadily improved every year in Colorado. In 2022, he hit .280/.337/.525 (142 OPS+), with 34 homers, 114 RBI, and 12/17 SB. 

Then came 2023, which nobody could have  predicted with full accuracy (how often does one predict a Triple Crown season?), but many could, and should, have seen coming.

And now?

Questions abound.

1. What is Martinez really, as a hitter? No matter how you slice it, 2023 was an outlier…unless he does it again, of course. But the question here is more centered around how much Coors Field skewed Martinez’ stats, which would, in turn, skew the perception of him around the industry. There’s no mistaking Martinez raked at Coors; he hit .325/.425/.666 (177 OPS+), with 22 HR and 75 RBI, in 332 PA. Those are great marks, of course.

On the road, though? Martinez hit .330/.395/.626 (160 OPS+), with 22 HR, and 58 RBI (329 PA). His doubles were down (22 vs 13), but his triples were up (2 vs 4). His walk (35/31) and K (67/71) numbers were consistent, as were his hit totals (103 vs 97). That his RBI were down, as well as his runs scored (64 vs 52), is more an indictment on the rest of the lineup. Martinez hit everywhere in 2023.

2. Okay…what about home being The Park Where Hitters Go To Die?

Oh, Tropicana Field. How strange is it that a company built on flavor would sponsor a stadium that is so bland? There is nothing about The Trop that says anything other than “this would be a building in the background of a zombie apocalypse”. It has an aura of faded beige.

This is the perception of The Trop (should it even have capital letters?). But oddly, there’s a bit more here than meets the eye:

Tampa Bats, Home: .258/.316/.401 (.717), 352 R, 74 HR, 339 RBI (22 3B)

Tampa Bats, Road: .235/.302/.375 (.677), 351 R, 81 HR, 331 RBI (18 3B)

The bats in the Tampa lineup stink. Or, and maybe this is the more realistic scenario…

….they have potential. They don’t have protection.

Their best hitter, by far, was Elliott Jenkins. He moved from Seattle, where he was a fine hitter…but barely above league average (104 OPS+ in 2022). In 2023, he led the AL in batting (.321/.363/.510). He posted a 147 OPS+. But he hit leadoff.

Jenkins, Home: .348/.380/.534 (159 OPS+), 9 HR, 44 RBI

Jenkins, Road: .291/.346/.483 (135 OPS+), 13 HR, 37 RBI

Their second-best hitter? That would be Bobby Witt Jr., the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year. He hit .270/.335/.446 (122 OPS+), with 23 HR and 84 RBI. His numbers would have been better, had he not hit the Rookie Fade in September (.226/.314/.398).

Witt, Home: .302/.345/.526 (146 OPS+), 14 HR, 53 RBI

Witt, Road: .239/.326/.370 (100 OPS+), 9 HR, 31 RBI

The Rays’ hitters hit well at Tampa; most, if not all, far outpaced their road totals. The organization has identified hitters who they believe can succeed with a ballpark that plays better to speed and gap power.

But they don’t have that protector, the guy in the middle of the lineup who can outright mash. That #4-5 spot was their biggest leak last season. Oneil Cruz was wildly inconsistent, and a combination of Nick Plummer and Daniel McCormick offered much of the same.

Does Martinez transform their lineup? That’s probably a bit of a stretch; the Rays still have unproven prospects in Corbin Carroll, Taylor Davis, Drew Romo and Garrett DeChambeau in the back half of their lineup. What Martinez hopefully provides is consistency, which, outside of Jenkins, the Rays sorely lack.

3. What IS his actual value, after the eventual opt-out? 

That’s obviously too early to tell. But what do other teams do? What if Martinez hits, say, .290/.370/.510 in Tampa, goes for 27 homers, and 95 RBI? Those are All-Star numbers, and more aligned with a natural progress from his 2022 season (combined with Tampa power suppression).

How can Martinez’ camp value him properly in that manner? How can teams value him properly? Moving from Colorado to Tampa is such a ridiculous disparity, that even in a free market, his value becomes vague, and likely suppressed some as a result.

The Rays, of course, will try to do everything they can to extend him. But he has reportedly told them that he won’t talk until the final year of his deal, which is, technically-speaking, 2025. It’s way more likely he opts out without the Rays ever getting a chance to extend him without competition.

The Rays have plenty of money for extensions, and if they finally break through and make the playoffs in 2024, owner Stuart Sternberg will increase that. (Narrator: No, he won’t.) But they have at least one major extension coming, that being SP Jeffery LeBlanc, who pitched brilliantly after arriving from St. Louis. If Randy Maley, who struggled mightily in the same scenario, turns himself around, the Rays will have two big extensions at their doorstep.

They can afford Martinez, but this is a franchise consistently with eyes two seasons ahead, when it comes to their ledger. 

Needless to say, they’re in a bind.

4. Will Martinez lead the league in walks this year? 

This is the other issue for the Rays, and something they have to solve. If Martinez hits cleanup, who is protecting him? Davis? Carroll? McCormick? Will Anderson?

The Rays have been kicking the tires on another hitter, likely one who can DH, to back Martinez. The Rays have something of an embarrassment of riches in the outfield, at least on paper. They have five outfielders they rather like, all of whom are solid, all-around players.

That said, none of that contingent, whichever of Nick Plummer or Corbin Carroll, or Will Anderson, are hitters who can make teams pay for pitching around Martinez. Plummer has the best hit tool, while Carroll has the most upside. But neither should be counted on for that particular role.

So, where do they go? There are several available options, all of whom are current non-starters in Tampa, due to contract demands. The team has kicked the tire on options outside the organization, but none of those have come to fruition as of yet.

Maybe one of the kids shows up and rakes in 2024. Maybe Plummer, with increased opportunities with runners on base, begins to hit for power. Maybe Carroll does. Maybe Davis or DeChambeau, both of whom project as excellent hitters, rise up. 

The Rays are living in a land of maybes and what-ifs. They want to live in Certaintown.

Unfortunately, for them, for Martinez, and for the future…this entire story proves nobody lives there. Nothing is certain. And for every answer you think you have, you may just end up with more questions.

MLBPro100 2025 Project: Clearly, trying to project Martinez on this list is difficult. His power numbers will suffer, because they have to, right? But I don’t expect them to suffer too much. Maybe he hits 30 homers, rather than 44. And his doubles and triples will go up, one would expect. He likely won’t be a near-10 WAR player, but he could be in the 7 range. So I’ll say his range could be anywhere from #1, all the way down to, say #25. It’s a wide range. Narrowing it down, I’d say he’s probably somewhere from 8-12…easily enough to capitalize on opting out in a year’s time.

Some Vote Notes: The Keepers of the Vote indicate that we could have our 4-5 spots locked down; it’s more a matter of placement (or if there is a tie). 

  • Martinez received three votes at #1.
  • Six other players who received votes at #1 still remain.
  • One player who received a vote at #1 has not received a vote at #2 or #3.
  • Nine different players received votes at #3.
  • Four received multiple votes.

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