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Francis Martes On The Cusp Of Making Houston Astros

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.Francis Martes knows he's close. After a successful turn in the Texas League as a 20-year-old and six more weeks in the Arizona Fall League to close the year, he knows that he'll begin this season at Triple-A Fresno, just a phone call away from becoming part of Houston's cavalcade of young talent.

First, though, he's got a few things to work on. In the AFL he continued to hone command of his mid-90s fastball. Now, on the sparkling new backfields at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, he's working on making his changeup as effective a weapon as his fastball and breaking ball.

"It felt good today, "Martes said, "but the last time the changeup was a little bit bad. Now it's more perfect, with more rotation. It was good."

To make those changes, Martes said, he adjusted his grip and worked on staying back on the mound. When he made those improvements together, the changeup, which he threw in the high-80s, showed excellent fade and provided his arsenal with a third swing-and-miss pitch.

He's also working to remove any extraneous movement of his head and eyes from his delivery. He wants to keep his eyes trained forward, which will improve his command and control. He's gotten better at that, but he still wants to work at keeping his head as still as can be throughout his delivery.

After Astros reliever Luke Gregerson spun a couple of innings, Martes took his turn for the next five innings and fanned three over five, two-run innings with two walks mixed in. His fastball sat between 93-95 mph for the majority of his outing.

Tony DeFrancesco, Baseball America's 2015 Minor League Manager of the Year, will be Martes' manager this season at Fresno. He knows that part of his job will be keeping Martes, who will get his first taste of Triple-A at just 21 years old, focused on the task at hand instead of looking forward to that first call to the big leagues.

"When you get first-year Triple-A guys and they start going into these hitters' parks in the PCL, you've still got to out and fight through it and get your pitches in," DeFrancesco said. "You've got to keep your team in the game."

Martes was originally signed by the Marlins in 2012 but was swapped in 2014 to Houston with Colin Moran—whom Astros officials said has had an impressive spring—Jake Marisnick and a supplemental first-round pick in exchange for righthander Jarred Cosart, shortstop Enrique Hernandez and outfielder Austin Wates.

The Astros used that same script—asking for and receiving a lottery ticket-type of player from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League—to acquire their next-best pitching prospect behind Martes, righthander David Paulino. He was the player to be named later in the three-player deal that sent reliever Jose Veras to Detroit in 2013.

Players uniformly understand that baseball is a business and that a trade is possible at any time, but few expect to be dealt before they've gotten to full-season ball. So it came as a shock to Martes when the Marlins informed him he'd need to pack his things and move from their complex in Jupiter to the Astros' in Kissimmee.

"It never came to my mind," he said. "It felt strange at the beginning. You're leaving everybody you knew, all your teammates and stuff and going to a new organization. I didn't know what to expect, but as time grew I got to know the players and got to know the organization and I fit in very well."

Three years after the trade, Martes, who models himself after Giants righthander Johnny Cueto, has zoomed to the top of the Astros' Top 30 prospect list. More than that, he earned the No. 15 spot on this year's Top 100 prospect list.

In a few days he'll leave West Palm Beach aboard a flight across the country for Fresno. There, among all the taco trucks and zany jerseys and mascot weddings, he'll take the ball every fifth day in the hope that one day in the near future he'll have to board another flight, to Houston this time.

When that time comes, the Astros are confident he'll be up to the challenge.


Baseball America Spring Training Prospect Report -- March 7, 2019

Tyler O'Neill is one of spring training's most powerful bats, Richie Martin zeroes in on the Orioles starting SS job, and two Blue Jays pitching prospects have very different days.

"There's a lot of high expectations for him. He's one of our top prospects," DeFrancesco said. "Hopefully we'll have him ready, and whenever the Astros call he'll go up there and compete and give them a chance to win. Overall, stuff-wise, he's as good as anybody we've got."

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