Every year there is some prospect who surprises everyone with their level of play. That kind of unexpected breakout usually takes place at the lower levels of the system. Last year, however, Willson Contreras busted out at AA Tennessee and is now playing regularly in Chicago. This year’s AA breakout appears to be Trey Martin, who is hitting .316 in July and .389 over his last 10 games. These are markedly different numbers from those he’s put up in the past.
Martin, who has been in the Cubs organization since being chosen in the 13th round of the 2011 draft, has always been acknowledged as a top-notch defensive prospect. His defensive skills were well noted at the time and he hasn’t disappointed, collecting a pair of gold gloves in the minors thus far. His bat, on the other hand, was expected take more time to develop. That has indeed been the case, though missing most of the 2013 season didn’t help.
Martin was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League at the outset of his professional career. He only played 18 games there in 2011 and returned to start in Arizona in 2012. He only played seven games there during that second stint, hitting .448 before being promoted to short-season Boise, where he hit .270 but struck out 48 times in 204 at bats.
Fangraphs’ Mark Hulet talked to several scouts about Martin in November 2012:
When I asked about Martin, I was pleased to hear that he was also starting to appear on other radars around the game. “He’s super impressive and he has really good upside,” a talent evaluator said. “He’s definitely fun to watch… When he hits the ball… he really puts a charge in it.” I was also told that he’s about 20-25 pounds from his ideal frame and stands about 6’3” with good width to his shoulders. The added weight could help him become a serious power threat, to go along with promising speed (although he’s raw on the base paths) and defense.
Martin’s progress was dealt a significant blow when he was hit in the face by a ball during fall instructs. He would spend the better part of 2013 recovering from that and other injuries and only played 11 games that year.
Come 2014, I remember seeing Martin quite a bit at low-A Kane County. While he only hit .247, his value was quite apparent on defense. He easily covered gap-to-gap in the outfield and his glove played a key role in the second half run to the title for the Cougars. I thought his arm was solid, but I was amazed by the ground he covered. While Albert Almora is known for his instincts, Martin actually has more range.
Martin hit .313 and .277 in June and July of 2014, respectively, so I was a little surprised to see him back at low-A South Bend when the 2015 rosters were released. However, he was promoted to high-A Myrtle Beach only a month into the season. While he did not have a good year at the plate (.239), Martin won his second consecutive gold glove.
When rosters were announced for 2016, I saw that he was still with Myrtle Beach and I had a nagging fear that he was going to stall out at the A-ball level. Minor injuries hampered his start, but Martin came back strong and hit .267 in May. That improved performance prompted a jump to AA Tennessee in early June and we’re starting to see him really break out there.
I like what this young man can do as a player and I think there’s still some projection left to his 6-2, 190-pound frame. He could be a big leaguer hitting in the .250 to .260 range with that glove, speed, and arm. To be a successful pro, his glove is going to do most of the talking.
I think Martin is very driven to improve his lot in the organization. He is also the perfect candidate to go to the Arizona Fall League to see how much his improved hitting skills hold up against elite competition. I like the spike in average and am hopeful that he can sustain his development as he continues to move forward.