At the beginning of the year, right-hander Adrian Martinez was listed at the back end of the Double-A San Antonio Missions’ rotation and not even really sure he would get regular starts after some of the more known pitching prospects were fully healthy.
Martinez, 24, ended the year in Triple-A El Paso as one of the best pitching prospects in the San Diego Padres organization.
“I worked a lot in the offseason on my mechanics and the different pitches, really to get more spin on my breaking pitches,” said Martinez in El Paso, shortly after his promotion to Triple-A.
“Also to locate my two-seamer better.”
Originally signed by the Padres out of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos developmental program in 2015, the Mexicali native logged a few innings in the Dominican Republic that summer, but then underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2016. He returned to action in the AZL in 2017, then opened the next season in Low-A Fort Wayne. After seven rocky outings, he was sent back to the complex and then spent the rest of the year with mixed results in short-season Tri-City. He once again began 2019 with Fort Wayne, but this time he found his footing, posting a 3.36 ERA in 75 innings to earn a late-season promotion to High-A Lake Elsinore.
After a year lost to the Pandemic in 2020, the Padres sent Martinez, now 24, out to Double-A San Antonio as a starter. While he was solid early, he found another gear in the summer, locking down our Pitcher of the Year award with a six game stretch in which he allowed just one run on 18 hits over 33.2 innings. By the time he was promoted to El Paso in mid-August, he had a 2.34 ERA with an 83:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio, only giving up 64 hits. His manager, Phillip Wellman, thought he had pitched well enough to merit a spot start if San Diego needed a pitcher.
While Martinez throws four pitches – a two-seam fastball, sinker, slider and changeup that acts more like a screwball because of how he pronates his arm on the finish – the sinker was his biggest weapon in San Antonio. The pitch sat around 91-93, but Martinez could reach back for 97.
While Double-A hitters often swung over the pitch, Martinez initially struggled after his promotion to El Paso, as more advanced hitters waited him, content to let the ball finish below the zone. He had a 6.84 ERA in his first five starts, giving up 31 hits in 25 innings – including five home runs.
September was a different story, as Martinez adjusted and pitched to a 3.20 ERA striking out 24 in 25.1 innings against only nine walks.
“You have to get the ball over the white portion of the plate to get calls,” said his manager in El Paso, Eric Junge. “So that was a bit of a learning curve early on with his command. His control has always been fine; he can throw strikes. But the level of command needed to be raised and he has met that expectation.”
“Hitters are better here and they are going to be even better at the major league level. There were times that his fastball was kind of diving under the zone and hitters here were able to kind of eliminate that and expose him a little bit. Once he started to hit the bottom of the zone with his fastball that changed things.”
Working with better command, Martinez focused on getting his two-seam fastball and changeup over for strikes early in the count. Getting ahead forced batters to chase his lethal sinker and slider combination.
“This year was better for me because I worked more on the location of my pitches,” said Martinez. “That’s the biggest part of my success. I try to throw every pitch for a strike, but sometimes I want the batter to try to chase a few.”
Overall, Martinez threw 125 innings, the most in his career, finishing with a 3.38 ERA, with 122 strikeouts against 41 walks, while opponents hit just .243.
The performance virtually ensures that Martinez will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and that the righty, who has never appeared in any individual Top 30 here at MadFriars, will be a regular on lists across the industry this winter. He will likely start 2022 in El Paso, but there is a good chance the Mexicali native will be in line right behind MacKenzie Gore for a promotion when needed.