What is Leonys Martin?

Many of you, for the last four weeks, have emailed me, asking for a detailed report on Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin.

What is he?  When will he be here?  

Is he worth the money?  What does it mean for Julio?  What does it mean for Engel?  

How excited should I be?

Here’s the thing: I’m not a scout, and so when I see a baseball player play baseball, whether it’s for three 108-degree innings on the back fields during Fall Instructs, or every day for three years in a Rangers uniform, I’m hopeful that you recognize that I’m just giving you an unqualified opinion that’s no more authoritative or foundationed than your own.

And I’ve never seen Leonys Martin play.

So understand I’m not going to offer a comp, or forecast a timetable, or try to paint much of a picture here.

I could tell you he hit .398/.497/.564 in Cuba in 2007-08, followed by .311/.491/.492 in 2008-09 and .326/.438/.497 in 2009-2010, and I suppose you’d sort of get an idea.  No telling how competitive the league was, but that sort of separation between average and on-base at least suggests an offensive player who will make pitchers throw strikes.

I could recycle notes like:

  • One scout telling Buster Olney (ESPN) that Martin reminds him of Juan Pierre with a better arm.
  • Another scout telling Peter Gammons (MLB.com) that the better comp is Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Eric Nadel, who has seen Martin play, comparing his game to Kenny Lofton’s.
  • Jim Callis (Baseball America) projecting Martin behind fellow Cuban defector Jose Iglesias but ahead of Dayan Viciedo and Adeiny Hechavarria, and predicting that Martin, not Julio Borbon or Engel Beltre, is the Rangers’ center fielder of the future.
  • Danny Knobler (CBSSports.com) suggesting that Martin “probably would have been the first position player taken” had he been available in this June’s draft, considered one of the strongest crops in years.  Gammons hearing something more along the lines of the middle-to-late first round.
  • The rough consensus that Martin is a plus runner and thrower, contrasted with differences of opinion on the hit tool, but a player who grades out well on makeup, court sense, and the ability to make adjustments.

But until we see how Martin fares against pro competition stateside, even if only at the AA level to start out, these types of descriptions are probably only slightly more reliable than the dual sources who told Gammons that the Red Sox offered the 23-year-old less than $2 million to sign and Knobler that Boston’s offer was actually $12 million (and one of two bids that were apparently close behind the prevailing Texas offer).

That’s not to discount any of those notes.  I want as many of them as I can get.

But right now Leonys Martin’s game is basically a rumor.  A pretty exciting rumor.  He’s a player that Texas (Jose Fernandez and Mike Daly and Don Welke and A.J. Preller and Jon Daniels and others) believed was worth a big league contract as an amateur, a first for the Rangers since they gave one to the 2007 supplemental first-rounder Borbon, who’s now on clear notice if he wasn’t already that the organization has a contingency plan if he doesn’t advance his game fairly soon.  And even that’s probably putting it lightly.  You don’t pay what’s reported to be a $5 million signing bonus and commit another $10.5 million over a five-year stretch that will begin in the minor leagues to a player you merely view as insurance.  Borbon may take the next step, but if he does and Martin develops the way Texas expects him to, Borbon probably becomes a trade piece.

And that would be the optimal result: Martin forcing his way to Arlington and Borbon putting himself on other teams’ target lists.  As for Beltre?  He’s in extended with Martin right now, serving out a suspension while Martin gets his timing down, and if both are bound soon for Frisco, it’s going to be Martin who gets most of the center field assignments, with Beltre sliding to a corner.

I know next to nothing about the Rangers’ newest roster member, a left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing leadoff candidate under contract for the next five seasons and under club control for at least two more after that.

But I know that the Rangers have earned my trust with their scouting efforts and my adrenaline with their relentless resourcefulness, and if they believe Leonys Martin, the latest example of the organization expanding both its global reach and its pipeline of premium depth, is worth the major commitment that ownership has stepped up to cover, then I’m good.

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