Player Preview: Rafael Martin

Whenever Rafael Martin’s name is mentioned in discussions of 2016 predictions, two possible narratives should come to mind. 

The first – and preferred scenario for Nationals fans– is a tale that would more closely resemble a movie screenplay than a real-life story of “how to make it in baseball.” 

The second – and, arguably, more likely – narrative is one of an everyday John Doe who had just the right amount of talent to catch the eyes of baseball scouts, but who lacks the experience and development needed to shut down batters on the main stage.

Before laying out either scenario, one has to acknowledge how amazing it is that Martin’s name is even relevant in baseball today. And, should the fairytale play out, the Nationals could benefit from the ultimate underdog’s story. 

Martin’s earliest pitching days placed him far off the path to pro ball. After finishing high school, colleges near his home in California gave him little cause to keep playing the game; so, he took a job with a local construction contractor instead. Fast-forward a few years and, essentially by happenstance, Martin tried out to play ball for the Mexican leagues and landed a spot. After the Nats got word of his talent, they scooped him up in 2010.

Nearly five years passed before Martin tossed his first Major League pitch. Today, the Nationals could still use Martin to help showcase newfound bullpen depth.

Martin shined in his Major League debut last April against the Boston Red Sox, after all. He gave up just one hit over two innings and struck out five straight batters that day to help the Nats clinch a 10-5 victory to avoid getting swept. 

Unlike so many relievers today, Martin doesn’t aim for heat. Instead, makes up for his lack of speed with the movement of his slider.

There are a few other reasons to hold onto hope for Martin. To start, one simply can’t overlook his 2014 numbers, even though he recorded them in Double-A and Triple-A. Martin struck out 20 batters in 20 innings pitched with Double-A Harrisburg before recording a 0.80 ERA over 33.2 innings pitched with Syracuse. Last year, he struck out 68 batters in 56 innings pitched with Syracuse, although batters tallied 20 earned runs against him.

It will be interesting to see how – or if – his slider develops some bite this season. If he can throw batters off balance, his story might be one Nationals fans share for some time.

But, of course, there’s a second possibility: Martin’s slowed velocity could mean his heavy strikeout days are over. And, with a fastball that hardly tops 90 mph, there aren’t many other reliable options in Martin’s pitching arsenal.

It won’t be the first story of a middle reliever who fizzled after a few short stints in the Majors. Perhaps, though, more fans will pull for Martin given his inspiring background story. 

But, for the time-being, Martin is a viable option for when the remainder of the Nationals pitching staff winds up on short rest. If he can deliver in those early opportunities, he might land a regular spot on the roster… 

…a mention in an upcoming movie screenplay, however? That might be a long-shot. 

© 2016 Citizens of Natstown