For years, righthander Justin Martinez has been seen as a tantalizing but far away prospect in the D-backs’ system. All he needed was a few months to shed that “far away” descriptor.
Martinez returned from Tommy John surgery in July, then marched through the top three levels of the system before finishing with an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League.
The 21-year-old Martinez who was added to Arizona’s 40-man roster in November, has a triple-digit fastball, a wipeout splitter and a developing slider, and he might be an option for the club’s beleaguered bullpen in the near future.
“I don’t see any reasons why he can’t make an appearance in Arizona sometime next year,” said Shane Loux, who was the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Martinez’s pitching coach in 2022 at Double-A Amarillo and in the AFL.
Martinez showed not just big-time stuff this year but also poise, evidenced by a sequence that stood out to Loux in the Fall League. Asked to close out a two-run lead on Oct. 31, Martinez loaded the bases on a walk, a hit batter and an error behind him. He then induced a strikeout, pop out and another strikeout to earn the save, with Fall League MVP Heston Kjerstad being one of his strikeout victims.
“The moment never seems too big,” Loux said. “One thing I tried to press and pound into him is when you can strike people out, you’re never really in a jam.”
The ability to miss bats gives Martinez a leg up when it comes to competing for a major league job. The D-backs’ bullpen has been a trouble spot for years and is severely lacking in power arms.
Martinez, a 2018 international signing from the Dominican Republic, does not have great command or control, nor does he have especially good riding life on his fastball.
But he found success by pitching backwards, throwing his splitter early in counts before blowing his fastball by hitters with two strikes. Better fastball command would open up more avenues for attack, Loux said, as would the ability to consistently throw his slider for strikes.