As we head towards the trading deadline, it seems like every contender in baseball is shopping for a starting pitcher, and they’re all complaining that there aren’t any available. The guys who were expected to be available aren’t as of yet, thanks to trips to the disabled list or the fact that they’re teams just aren’t ready to sell yet, so organizations like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Texas are just cooling their heals, trying to patch their holes internally while hoping that the market opens up in July.
Well, I have a suggestion. Rather than sitting around for a month, losing games that will come back to haunt you in September, why not give a kid a shot who deserves one and certainly won’t be getting one in his current organization. That kid is J.D. Martin, currently destroying the International League as the ace of the Syracuse Skychiefs.
Martin was signed as a minor league free agent over the winter by the Nationals to provide some Triple-A pitching depth, and while the Nationals have a lot of problems, they don’t lack for young pitching options in their rotation. It’s unlikely that they’ll be giving Martin a look this summer, and if he’s not traded, he’ll probably spend the whole year in Syracuse.
However, he’s earned a shot at the big leagues. A former first round pick of the Indians in 2001, he’s overcome some arm problems and has begun to show durability that was always a question mark. Despite standing 6’4, Martin is a strike-thrower with a below average fastball who lives off of his change-up. That package works a lot better in the minors than it does in the majors, but extreme users of this skillset can provide useful innings in the big leagues.
Martin is definitely an extreme strike thrower. He’s walked 7 batters in 70 innings so far this year while racking up 52 strikeouts and a league average groundball rate. When you pound the zone that often and aren’t getting torched for copious amounts of fly balls, you’re doing enough things right to get hitters out. This is, essentially, the Minnesota Twins model of pitching. Carlos Silva, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn have all been successful in the Twin Cities while throwing below average fastballs over the plate a lot.
Other teams are still skeptical of the command-and-change-up right-handed pitcher, however, and guys like Martin have trouble finding a major league job. While it’s true that there’s almost no star potential in this skillset, and the upside offered is that of a #5 starter who will depend on his defense to help him get through 5 or 6 innings, that kind of pitcher can help a contender in the right situation. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Texas could all use a guy like Martin right now.
If they’d overlook the lack of big time velocity, they’d find that there are pitchers out there who could be acquired right now and could help patch a hole in their rotation. J.D. Martin deserves a shot in the majors, and with all the teams currently whining about the lack of available pitching, one of them should give Washington a call and give the kid an opportunity.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.