06/29/12 7:12 PM ET
Prep catcher Martinez back at Prospect Classic
California high school standout learning from players in college ranks
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
One of the top high school players in the Draft class of 2013, the catcher has logged a lot of miles coming to play in USA Baseball-related events. He was here last summer, competing in the Tournament of Stars, the first Prospect Classic and eventually making the 18 and under National Team that took home Pan Am gold.
He was back at the USA Baseball complex this spring with his Mater Dei teammates for the first National High School Invitational, a tournament won by Martinez and his high school. So it should surprise no one that Martinez is back once again, having made it through the first round of cuts for the 18U team in the Tournament of Stars and now playing in his second consecutive Prospect Classic.
"That's huge, I've been more relaxed," said Martinez about his second go-round at the Prospect Classic. "I had some jitters last year, trying to make the national team, but just like last year, I'm having fun."
Martinez went 0-for-2 in the first of the four-game Prospect Classic series on Friday afternoon, sending a ball to the warning track in center field in his second at-bat. The game, which pitted two teams of combined high schoolers and college players -- Martinez's "Stripes" against the "Stars" -- ended in a 2-2 tie.
The final score, though, is secondary. For scouts, this event has quickly become a must-see one-stop shopping event, a rare chance to see the best high schoolers and college players together on one field at the same time. The college team is already set. For high school players like Martinez, it's a chance to make the National Team, impress scouts and learn from the older players about what it's like at the next level.
Martinez, for one, is soaking it up. At last year's Classic, he took a great deal back to the high school season from watching TCU's Josh Elander, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Braves.
"He back-doored me at third and I used that during the season," Martinez said with a smile. "I took a lot of catching stuff from him. I saw all the college hitters and could see how much the college game is better than the high school game."
Not that he felt he didn't belong. He performed well at last year's Classic, going 2-for-2 in the first game and driving in a run in the second game all against college competition. This year's Classic is a little different. The first two games of the series, held at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, streamed live on usabaseball.com and shown on tape delay on MLB Network (July 2 and 3, 11 a.m. ET), feature the mixed teams. Games 3 and 4 will go back to the high school vs. college format, with the fourth game, on July 3, to be streamed live online. If Friday's game is any indication, the change helps keep things more competitive for the first couple of games -- the college team outscored the high school squad, 20-2, last year -- something scouts and players seem to both appreciate.
"I like [the new format]; this is fun," Martinez said. "I talked to Kris Bryant, who's a big guy in next year's Draft class. We're learning from the college guys. They tell us how to approach the game."
It's unclear if Martinez really needs any help, especially when it has to do with USA Baseball events. He went 7-for-13 at the USA Baseball complex in Cary (where Game 3 will be held) during the NHSI. He went 4-for-10 during the Tournament of Stars, with three hits -- one a walk-off homer -- coming in one game. He cooled off to a 1-for-7 during the Red vs. Blue "intrasquad" games the 18U hopefuls played before the Classic. But considering he hit .387 for Team USA as the 18U's primary catcher last year, it's may seem like a safe bet he'll get the chance to play again, this time in South Korea for the IBAF Junior World Championships in September.
"This place feels like home now," Martinez said. "What they do for us, nothing beats it. I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
The only thing that could keep him from a repeat performance internationally is the depth at his position for his age group. Overall, scouts have not been giving great early reviews for the Class of 2013, but they have to be somewhat impressed with the amount of young catching available. Along with Martinez, there's Chris Okey, Reese McGuire and Nick Ciuffo on the current roster. It's so deep that Zack Collins, thought to be one of the better prep backstops in the class, is only an alternate.
"I always have a chip on my shoulder; I'm very self-motivated," Martinez said. "I knew there were a bunch of catchers here. Last year, I had to beat out guys like [D-backs' 2012 first-round pick] Stryker Trahan. I knew coming in I'd have my work cut out for me."
That sense of competition may help him deal with what can be a bit of a whirlwind over the summer. Martinez played at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis, then came here for the TOS and Prospect Classic. He'll get a short time to rest before the Area Code Games in early August, but at least that will be on his own SoCal turf. Later in August comes the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field, followed by more Team USA trials and hopefully a trip to the Far East.
"It's a lot; summer baseball is a lot," Martinez said. "Sometimes it seems like too much. It's fun, but you have to rest your body. Taking care of your body is huge. It's a grind, but it's all worth it."