Soaring Fabio Martinez Must Keep Emotions In Check

BELOIT, Wis.—It's only the first inning and things aren't going well for low Class A Cedar Rapids righthander Fabio Martinez.

Unable to harness his mid-90s fastball, Martinez is once again battling the one player in the Midwest League that continues to give him the most problems: Fabio Martinez.

"He can get emotional and that's when he gets in trouble," Cedar Rapids pitching coach Brandon Emanuel said. "You don't always see a lot of emotion from him, but you can see in his face that it's killing him inside. He's the type of guy that maybe you have to take a few more trips to the mound."

The 20-year-old Dominican overcame a rough first inning—allowing three runs and four walks—and lasted five innings as the Kernels eventually pulled off a 7-5 victory in 11 innings at Beloit. Martinez gave up five runs (three earned) with a six walks and five strikeouts.

The outing followed his finest start this season at Clinton, where he pitched seven dominating innings with no walks and 12 strikeouts.

"He was in total control (against Clinton)," Emanuel said. "With him, he always wants to go harder, harder, harder. But he's learning that if he can tone it down to about 90 percent, he's a lot more effective in the zone. There is still plenty there. He'll throw it 90-95 (mph) and then occasionally reach back for that 98."

'I'm A Starter'

Martinez has a unique, somewhat rigid delivery from nearly over the top with a four-seam fastball that sits in the 93-94 mph range and a hard, plus slider that resembles a split-finger pitch with its straight-downward break.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder touched 98 mph last fall in the Angels' instructional league.

"Nobody can take me away from my fastball," Martinez said through an interpreter. "That's the pitch I believe in the most."

Emanuel said Martinez might be one of the most unique pitchers he's ever seen.

"He's kind of his own breed," Emanuel said. "I don't know if I've ever seen anybody throw with as much angle as him. It's coming at a two-plane angle all the way through the catcher's mitt. When it's down, it's special. It really is."

Martinez also throws a circle changeup, a pitch that's currently a work in progress. Emanuel said it's an average pitch at times where at other times it's below-average when thrown too hard or with a slower arm speed.

The Angels envision Martinez as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter, but it's easy to project him as a future closer. Fellow Dominican flamethrower Neftali Feliz emerged as one of the MWL's top pitching prospects in 2008 with Clinton and soared to the big leagues a year later. The 22-year-old was among the American League leaders with 13 saves in the first two months of the season for the Rangers.

Martinez said he would prefer to keep his current role.

"I haven't thought about (switching)," Martinez said. "I'm a starter."

Martinez grew up in a two-income household with his mother frequently working in Italy and his father holding down a job in the Dominican as a mechanic. Unlike many young Latin players, Martinez avoided the poverty that plagues his country.

"It wasn't like what you see on television," said Martinez, who grew up idolizing Pedro Martinez and still lists the three-time Cy Young award winner as his favorite current player. "I wasn't poor. We had all the necessities. It was good."

Pedal To The Metal

Signed by scout Leo Perez in April 2007, Martinez was originally a position player and didn't start pitching until he was 17. Martinez hit 89 mph his first time on the mound and has since grown four inches and added nearly 10 mph on his fastball.

Martinez struck out 93 in 76 innings in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2008 and led the Rookie-level Arizona League with 92 strikeouts and a .197 opponent average last season. He struck out 11 in his full-season debut against Beloit on April 9 and has been the MWL strikeout leader ever since.

Martinez tossed six shutout innings at Peoria on May 28, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out and seven in his second victory of the season. In 10 appearances (nine starts), Martinez was 3-1, 3.81 with 41 walks and 79 strikeouts in 54 innings.

"Anytime you see strikeout numbers like that, more than one per inning, he is definitely doing something well," Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke said. "He does a real good job on the mound. He has a plus fastball and the slider was very tough to hit."

Martinez leads a prospect-laden rotation that also includes 2009 supplemental first-round picks Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs.

Richards, who pitched collegiately at Oklahoma, was second in the league in innings (68) and strikeouts (64) through May. Skaggs, chosen out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High, was 15th in ERA (2.51).

"It looks good on paper, but you still have to go out and perform," Emanuel said. "Some of these young kids, like Skaggs, they're used to throwing one day a week in high school ball and then maybe lift a little weights. There are so many things they have to do now between starts with all of the side work, the running, the lifting. This is their job now and there's always somebody else there to take it."

Jeffrey Zampanti covers baseball for the Kenosha (Wis.) News