In late May of 1999, I hung a blanket over the window of my first apartment. It was a terrible apartment, the sort of place an 18-year-old kid officially moving out for the first time tends to gravitate toward. It was dirty and cheap, and my roommate and I could just swing it.
I was hanging a blanket over the window because it was ten in the morning, the window faced south, and it was too bright to sleep. My girlfriend at the time and I had just driven through the night back from Manhattan, Kansas, where we watched her sister graduate. They walked in the afternoon, we got a call her grandmother had suffered a stroke in the evening, and we drove through the night to get home. Got to the hospital about 3 a.m. or so, hung around for awhile waiting on news, then headed back to my apartment to get some sleep. Which brings me back to the blanket.
It was as blue and bright as May ever was, and there was no way we could sleep with that sunlight streaming in. Having the superfecta of slovenliness going for me (youth, poverty, y chromosome, and heterosexuality), I had yet to discover proper window coverings. Ergo, the blanket, window treatment of choice for collegians everywhere. It was an open weave, and tattered, so the light wasn't blocked entirely. It was dark enough for Lisa to sleep, so we climbed into bed and she drifted off immediately. In spite of being fairly exhausted myself, I was awake for an hour or more, admiring the pattern of light and shadows coming through that blanket. It was screaming bright outside, but inside you could see only the barest hints of it shining through.
I'm sure you're wondering what the point of that story was, and I don't blame you. The point is this: watching Carlos Martinez pitch last night was a little like that blanket. There was only a little of his talent showing through, but you get the feeling on the other side is a huge, impossibly bright wellspring of ability just waiting to come pouring out.
On a night when he never really looked particularly comfortable -- or even entirely loose, as even long-tossing in the outfield before the game he seemed to be trying to work out something in his calf -- Martinez sat comfortably at 95, 96 with his fastball, confirmed by two separate radar-wielding gentlemen seated nearby. One had him topped out at 98, the other 99.
Beyond the numbers, though, you could just feel the difference in Martinez's stuff. The empty stadium surely helped, but the sound of the catcher's mitt alone was enough to tell you the kid can bring it in a big way. And there's no obvious effort, either. He just steps, kicks, and casually throws high-90s. It's almost unreal to watch. He starts off at about a 45 degree angle to home plate, a little like Tim Lincecum or Mat Latos. The arm action looks good (at full speed, anyway), without any sign of the various inverted alphabet arm actions which seem to cause so many problems. I reserve the right to change my tune if there's weird stuff going on in slow motion, but at life speed it looks good.
I was pleasantly surprised by the curveball, as well. There's not a whole lot of command there yet, but the pitch is sharp and has plenty of break. Martinez even threw a couple for strikes, which I honestly didn't expect to see at all. I only saw one really good changeup, on a swinging strikeout in the fourth, but several others were good enough to make me a believer he'll develop the pitch down the road.
It may have been nerves, it may have been the cold, or it may have been the simple fact he's nineteen and still learning, but Martinez has a ways to go yet with his command. When he was down and in the strike zone, no hitter at any level would have been able to do anything against him. Too often, though, he missed over the middle and got hit or fell behind and had to come to the hitters. He gave up seven hits on the night, a little surprising considering the quality of his stuff (though, to be fair, three were of the infield variety, and might very well have been outs with a higher-level defense behind him), but he only walked one, which is a much bigger deal to me.
All in all, it was fairly obvious we weren't seeing Carlos Martinez, even the nineteen-year-old version, at his very best. Even so, it's been a long time since I saw a player display talent anywhere near what he did last night.
A few notes on some of the other Quad Cities players:
Robert Stock, C -- You know, it's really a shame Stock can't hit, because I really like the way he receives behind the plate. Nice, quiet hands, and moves around well. He threw out two runners at second and could have had the third if the fielder had held onto the ball. I will say this for Stock, though: I saw him last year twice, and thought his swing was just a disaster. Total metal-bat swing, no proper load, just hands and wrists from a standstill. Last night I thought his swing actually looked better. Not great, necessarily, but it looks like his load is significantly better now. Unfortunately, I still kind of doubt it will really make much of a difference, but hey, I'm just telling you what I saw. Also, Robert Stock is kinda pretty handsome. Just saying.
Robert Stock: good looking, but not as cool as Robert Stack.
- Cody Stanley, C -- Cody Stanley doesn't look like a catcher. (He doesn't look like a DH, either, which is what he was actually serving as in this game, but that's beside the point.) He looks like a second baseman, or maybe the bat boy. It was the first time I've seen him in person, and while I knew he wasn't the biggest individual, it was still surprising how small he actually is. Still, he has good hands at the plate and seems to have a pretty good idea what he's doing when he walks up there. Very excited to see how he develops. Here's what I thought of him on draft day.
- Michael Swinson, RF -- I was disappointed watching Swinson. He's supposed to be toolsy, but he looked overmatched at the plate to me. Hopefully I just caught him on a bad night, but I didn't see much encouraging from him.
- Nick Longmire, CF -- I said it at the time he was drafted, and I'll say it now: I just don't like Longmire's swing. His physical talents are obvious; plus speed, a little pop in his bat, even what looked like a solid throwing arm. But his swing looks long and stiff to me (haha, long and stiff), and I just don't know if he's ever going to be able to hit high-level pitching.
- Virgil Hill, LF -- Hill has even more athletic ability than Longmire, but his swing seems to have a lot of moving parts to me. He did hit one of the harder balls of the night early on, a flyout to deep left that died at the track, but I would like to see a little quieter lower body in his swing, I think.
- Greg Garcia, 2B -- I like Garcia's swing. Very fluid, not a ton of extraneous movement. He also looked pretty good in the field, in a very limited sample size. Did look very good on a double play turn in the (I think), fourth inning. (I took notes, but forgot to write which inning that happened in.) I'm worried he isn't strong enough to keep pitchers from just knocking the bat out of his hands at higher levels, but there's still time for him to develop. He isn't a wow player, but I was pleasantly surprised all the same.
- Justin Wright, LHP -- I really like this kid. He may be rather diminutive, but his breaking ball is most definitely not. Big curve, just locked up the hitters when he threw it. Not a big velocity guy, but I would bet good money on him showing up as a LOOGY in the big league 'pen one of these days.
I'll just say it: the Quad Cities offense is not very good. Oscar Taveras, their top hitter, is currently on the shelf with a hamstring issue. Cody Stanley could have a very bright future, but I think he's strictly a complementary player, not a star. Beyond that, the hitting talent for the Bandits just doesn't begin to match up to the arms.
In the end, I went to see Carlos Martinez, and I came away extremely impressed. Even on a night when he never seemed to really find his groove he showcased rare stuff and a pretty fair idea of what to do with it. It's really unfair everyone is already comparing him to another undersized righthander by the name of Martinez (first name Pedro; you may have heard of him), but after having seen the kid up close and in person, I can't really say I blame them.