Over the course of the offseason, most St. Louis Cardinals fans clamored for a fourth outfielder. The recent signing of international free agent Adolis Garcia brought the backup outfielder debate up again, and the hope is that he can compete for a spot.
More realistically, though, Garcia will start the year in AA. Kyle Reis, one of our two resident prospect experts, noted that Garcia might barely make his cut for the St. Louis Cardinals top thirty prospects.
Tommy Pham is the most obvious candidate to slot in behind the starting trio of Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk. While we don’t have enough data on Pham to make the defensive metrics reliable, he certainly has looked at least competent enough to handle any of the three spots.
Offensively, Pham’s career .245/.333/.455 line looks fine for the role. However, Pham has struck out in nearly 32% of his MLB plate appearances, including a 38.8% rate last season. This type of do-or-die approach hasn’t resonated well with manager Mike Matheny (see: Randal Grichuk), and I personally would rather see a more consistent bat should a need for extended playing time arise.
Which brings me to Jose Martinez. Last May, the Cardinals acquired Jose Martinez from the Royals for essentially nothing. Martinez was fresh off a 2015 season in AAA in which he hit .384/.461/.563, good for a 177 wRC+ over 396 plate appearances. While his early 2016 line of .298/.356/.433 was less impressive, it was still better than average.
Martinez played well enough in the Cardinals system to earn a September call-up. He only made 18 plate appearances with the MLB club, though he took advantage of those limited opportunities. Now, he’s square in the mix for a roster spot in St. Louis come opening day.
While it’s too early to draw any conclusions from Spring Training play, it looks like Jose Martinez is picking up right where he left off last season. In eight at-bats over four games, Martinez has three hits, two of which are home runs. Both came in the split squad game against Boston, and the first was a moonshot:
According to Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals have so far been impressed by Jose Martinez. Goold’s report notes that Martinez is spending time working at first base, a position he has played some in the Minors, to add to his versatility. This way, he could serve as a right-handed option behind Matt Carpenter as well as spell both Grichuk and Piscotty in the corner outfield spots.
Jose Martinez offensive profile has been contact-focused through his long Minor League career. He’s never struck out in more than 20% of his plate appearances, and has generally held that rate below 15%. Additionally, he’s generated strong BABIP results every season, a skill which he can hopefully transfer to the Majors.
Admittedly, the ceiling for Jose Martinez is relatively low. He’s now 28 years old and has spent the last decade bouncing around the Minors and foreign leagues. However, the St. Louis Cardinals don’t need Martinez to be spectacular. Rather, they need him to provide serviceable outfield defense and a decent bat off the bench. Given Martinez more recent numbers in AAA, it’s hard to envision him falling short of those expectations.
With the current roster situation, I think Jose Martinez will begin the year with AAA Memphis. He likely will only get an extended chance if one of the Cardinals top four outfielders go down with injury. Tommy Pham is one of those four, so I suspect we’ll see Jose Martinez by Memorial Day.