CARY, N.C.—Mater Dei is rolling through the National High School Invitational as defending champions, but there's something unique about their star player, senior catcher Jeremy Martinez.
He's using a wood bat this spring.
"I figured if I'm going to do it in pro ball, I might as well get used to it now," Martinez said. "I like swinging wood better than BBCOR. I also figured it would get pitchers to challenge me a little more."
Martinez's coach doesn't have a problem with it, especially with the Southern California commit hitting the way he has so far. He was off to a slow start to the season, but he's 3-for-6 in the Monarchs' first two games in the NHSI with a walk and a strikeout. On the season, he's now hitting .320/.485/.360.
"We've been thinking about it for a number of months now, leading up from the summer," Mater Dei head coach Burt Call said. "Jeremy is one of those special athletes that, nine months out of the year, he's swinging wood bats. We just felt like he's comfortable with it and he's confident with it, that we decided hey, 'Jeremy, swing the wood bat. Go with it. You've been doing it for nine months now.' So, that was kind of the mindset instead of trying to go back and balance with the weights being a little bit different, and he's used to swinging a wood bat with the National Team, so we just said go for it."
For scouts, there are two ways to view Martinez's decision. On one hand, they like it for evaluations. Figuring out how a guy will transition from metal bats to wood bats in pro ball is one of the bigger challenges scouts have when evaluating amateur hitters. But on the other hand, it can be seen as a selfish move, and scouts could question his role as a team player.
Martinez only has one extra-base hit on the season—a double—and if more power doesn't show up, coaches or teammates may try to persuade Martinez to make the switch. For now, Martinez likes that the wood bats force him to stay within himself and keep his swing short.
"I think wood bats are a lot better, honestly," Martinez said. "You really have to focus on hitting the ball square because the wood bats can break. But with metal bats, you can get away with stuff because you can get jammed and it won't break . . . You can cue a ball with an aluminum bat or get jammed and it won't break. But with a wood bat, you really have to square a ball and that's all you have to work with. You can't hit balls off the end or get jammed because they'll be breaking."