Just as I was two days ago, I am on vacation, so please excuse me if this post is abbreviated. Today's subject is a favorite of mine, not because of his affiliation with my favorite team, but because of his story. No, it's no great personal saga, but it's the story of a prospect that was written off and is putting himself back on the map. There are obviously many of these stories every year, so I don't mean to imply that Ethan Martin is a special case, but it is instructive to note that not everyone's trip to the majors goes as smoothly as Bryce Harper's, Mike Trout, or even Matt Moore. Some of these guys stagnate for years, but that doesn't mean they're done developing as players. We should keep these guys in mind and know that they can still establish themselves as valuable assets, both in real life and in fantasy. We should neither be so quick to praise or bury prospects, as they all follow different paths.
Read about Ethan Martin's journey post-jump...
Selected with the 15th overall pick in 2008, the Dodgers announced Martin as a right-handed pitcher as he was an impressive two-way prospect, splitting his time on the mound with time at third base. At third base Martin featured a lot of power but had some length to his swing as well. On the mound, he sat in the mid-90s and broke off a hammer of a curveball that has ranked as the best in the Dodgers system. He is extremely athletic, as he also had scholarship offers as a quarterback. He can sit in the mid-90s with relative ease and can touch 98 MPH. Despite the ease with which he produces his velocity and his impressive athleticism, Martin's bugaboo (control/command) seems to stem from his inability to repeat his mechanics. Martin can also feature a change up, though it's still in development and not near a finished product.
Martin began his journey in 2009 at Lo-A where he struck out over 10/9 IP, but countered that with a BB/9 above 5. That kind of lack of control isn't unexpected in Lo-A from a high school pitcher, and with the electric stuff providing plenty of K's, it was easy to overlook the lack of progression in his command/control. The next season Martin was promoted to Hi-A, and in the hitters paradise that is the California League the result was the dreaded combination of a decreased K/9 and an elevated BB/9, with the latter clocking in at an unsightly 6.43. While that is certainly an ugly figure, it had plenty of competition from his 6.35 ERA, and while part of that is the Cal League, a lot of that had to do with Martin himself. In 113 innings pitched, Martin gave up 120 hits, which isn't bad in and of itself, but when you add the league leading 81 free passes, it becomes more of an issue. As one might expect, Martin was returned to the unfriendly confines of the Cal League to begin 2011, and while his K/9 jumped back up to a hair under 10, his BB/9 continued to sit in the sixes. Impressively, Martin was accomplishing the task of striking out a lot of batters, getting hit fairly hard AND walking his fair share of batters as well. Stunning. Due to his continued struggles as a starter, Martin was converted to the bullpen. He took to this role a bit better and earned a promotion to Double-A, where he would remain in the bullpen, starting only 3 of 21 games at Chattanooga. The results weren't what the Dodgers had hoped for with his K/9 and BB/9 holding fairly steady, though both moved a tick in the wrong direction. All of this is to say that Martin had gone from first round pick to a non-prospect in the span of three short years. He still has stuff for days, but his lack of control has made him nothing more than a flier.
Well, 2012 has been kind to young Mr. Martin (still only 23 years of age), as he has raised his stock a bit. He's not going to be mentioned on any mid-season top 50s or any top 100 lists any time soon, but he is a name to file away for the future. Martin has seen his K/9 drop to a still palatable 8.13 this season while cutting his BB/9 to 4.53. Yes, that's still a high figure for walks per nine, but it's a two walk per nine decrease, and he's done it starting all 18 games this year. Certainly, he's not young for his league and this IS his second go-round, but with the Dodgers competing and looking to add talent at the major league level, I could see Martin being included in a deadline deal, as teams will look to add him in as a lottery ticket who has shown recent improvement. While you'd love to see him dominating a little more, sometimes gains are incremental, and this could be a precursor to Martin figuring out how to harness his considerable stuff. Another encouraging sign is that while he was quite hittable thus far in his career, Martin has thrown 107.1 innings this year, and allowed only 78 hits. Additionally, he is recording a career best (by far) 1.23 WHIP in 2012. As a comparison, as a starter/reliever in 2011, he allowed 96 hits in 95.1 innings. What this says to me is that his stuff is still there, and if he can ever cut his BB/9 down to the mid-3s I think he could be a valuable 3/4 starter who can eat innings and rack up strikeouts while struggling with his WHIP.
Again, I know this might not be the type of player you want to hear about in this space, but he's a good example of the type of player not to write off, and to keep in the back of your mind. Martin will end up being a waiver or free agent add in deep leagues if and when he ever reaches the majors, but you can be ahead of your peers by monitoring guys like this and knowing when to grab them on the cheap.