Winter Wonders: Oct. 12

After winding route to pros, Marti focuses on improving




In his first year as a pro, Amaury Marti attracted some attention. Cuban defectors with age questions-is he 27, as listed by the Cardinals organization, or 32, as several Cuban sources claim and as he is listed by Minor League Baseball--often do.

But he also attracted attention with his talent. The Cardinals' 18th-round pick reached Double-A Springfield in his first pro year, and his reputation preceded him, thanks in part to a tape-measure home run he hit while playing for high Class A Palm Beach.

Marti, listed at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, hit .282/.351/.494 for Palm Beach before stumbling late with Double-A Springfield, where he hit .227/.315/.394. Overall, in 217 at-bats, Marti batted .249/.329/.433 with 10 home runs.

He made an immediate impression on field coordinator Jim Riggleman, the former big league manager with the Cubs and Padres.

"He's certainly a good, physical specimen," he said. Pressed further, Riggleman tried to size up Marti and, after some consideration, said, "He's built along the lines of a Sammy Sosa."

And he's not the only one gushing.

"If you were to turn away and not know it's him," Cardinals assistant general manager John Mozeliak said, ". . . the ball makes a different sound when it leaves the bat."

The Cardinals used their final pick of the first day of the amateur draft on Marti, a 2005 defector from Fidel Castro's communist Cuba whose potential is as mysterious as the exact route that led the outfielder into St. Louis' spring training facility in March and drew the attention of the commissioner's office.

His story is one that includes a pit stop last season in a northeastern independent league; a contract tug-of-war involving a Shreveport, La., club that Marti never played for; and a spring workout for the Cardinals that nearly led to his immediate signing before it was ruled any club would have the right to take Marti in the June draft.

To Cardinal fans, however, all of that may not matter. The Cardinals' decision to push Marti to Double-A and assign him to the Arizona Fall League--where he'll be the oldest player in the league--suggest he's on the fast track.

The Unknown

The mystery of Marti is enormous because the Cardinals have very little background to go on, something that would help the organization gain a better perspective on whether he actually is something to behold or just another player suited to spend his career toiling in the minor leagues.

A Website devoted to Cuban players, www.cubanball.com, shows Marti defected to the U.S. in April 2005. However, he didn't play until late last season, spending the final 17 games with Elmira, N.Y., of the independent Can-Am League.

In 65 at-bats, Marti hit .354, swatted two home runs, scored 10 runs and drove in 12 more. He also stole four bases, drew three walks, struck out 15 times and hit three doubles. Mozeliak said the organization went through a number of channels to verify his age, finally settling on 27.

However, Minor League Baseball lists Marti's birthdate as Sept. 2, 1974, the same date provided to Baseball America by several Cuban contacts. Bob Flori, manager of the independent Shreveport Sports, gruffed, "One story has him 27 going on 31."

You could say Flori is still steamed about losing Marti, although the manager is quick to point out that his angst is directed at a baseball agency that he suspected of stealing his player.

That agency is WIN International, which was founded by Pennsylvania businessman Bernie McGregor.

Shreveport's involvement with Marti became public when the Associated Press, in its daily transactions, noted that the Cardinals had purchased Marti's contract from Shreveport.

Turns out, Flori was perhaps the most influential in forcing Marti to be made eligible for the draft and putting the Cardinals, who had worked out Marti in spring training, in the scary position of losing him to another club.

That was how far Flori said he felt he had to go because he purchased Marti's contract from Elmira but saw him only in a few spring workouts before, one day, his player was gone.

Flori also wrote letters to every major league team informing them of Marti's AWOL status and noted that his player could be obtained for $85,000.

"That was just to get everybody's attention," Flori said. "You have to understand, there's a lot of gray area in this thing."

McGregor fired back at Flori, saying Marti approached WIN, which then put him in the hands of Fred Ferreira, formerly the international scouting director for the Expos and later the Marlins.

The Cardinals said they gave Marti a look on the advice of Ferreira, who now works for the Play Ball Baseball Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

As badly as the Cardinals wanted to sign Marti, they couldn't, as the commissioner's office ruled Marti would have to go through the draft because he had established residency in Miami.

If Marti pans out, the Cardinals can consider themselves fortunate that no other club beat them to the punch.

In Shreveport, there was little celebrating. Flori said he received $3,000 in compensation.

"For a righthanded hitter, he's got a lot of power to right-center," Flori said. "How far he goes, who knows?"

The home run Marti hit was a moon shot that landed on the roof of the Marlins offices beyond Roger Dean Stadium's left-field wall. The Cardinals and Marlins share the facility, with the Marlins' building stationed beyond the left-field wall. That building is a two-story structure that sits a good 30 feet beyond the wall.

And it's Marti's intriguing power potential, at any age, that prompted the Cardinals to send him to the AFL.

"You can't teach that kind of bat speed," Springfield manager Chris Maloney said. "The strength that he has is pretty top of the line. He's just got to put it all together. If he does, we've really got something."

--KARY BOOHER

Springfield News-Leader

FALL GUYS

• Indians 2005 first-round pick Trevor Crowe was still slated to go to the Arizona Fall League--the only question was whether he'd be playing the outfield or second base. The Indians, who moved Crowe to second late in the regular season at Double-A Akron, were awaiting a decision to see how Crowe performed on the right side of the infield during instructional league before committing to the move in the AFL. If Crowe goes as an outfielder, Brian Barton--who held the Tribe's lone outfield spot on the Peoria Javelinas roster--will likely go to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela or Puerto Rico.

• Phillies righthander Zach Segovia is expected to only play half a season in the AFL, being replaced by reliever Joe Bisenius after three outings. The Phillies want to get a longer look at Bisenius in Arizona after the 24-year-old righthander put up 8-3, 2.25 numbers with a 95-30 strikeout-walk ratio in 84 innings between high Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading during the regular season. He could play a role in the Philadelphia bullpen as early as next season.