The scenario that entices me most, however, is the one in which Martin is the everyday center fielder in 2013. He’s got the higher ceiling, has the tools to make it work, and I feel like he should be given a chance to become a mainstay in Texas. It’s not likely he’ll be able to come close to replacing Hamilton’s production, but his overall makeup is one of a player that can be a difference-maker for a team that hopes to remain in playoff contention for years to come.
The above was something I wrote on January 14 of this year. It's something I've felt for a long time, well before Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball and became a punching bag for why MLB free agency is a high-risk proposition. Last season, I begged Ron Washington (as if he could hear me) to give Martin a chance over players that the manager was more comfortable with, such as Craig Gentry and David Murphy. I felt that, if Hamilton moved over to left field, Martin could slide into center seamlessly, take his lumps, and grow into the player the front office felt they were getting when they signed him to a 5-year, $15.5 million deal in 2011.
As of this writing, Leonys Martin is on the hottest streak of his career. He carries an 11-game hitting streak into today's series finale against the New York Yankees, and he's proving to be one of the more consistent hitters in the Rangers lineup. Heading into the offseason, much talk was about how the Rangers needed to find a free agent replacement for Josh Hamilton in center field, that an everyday center fielder didn't currently exist on the roster. Both Martin and Craig Gentry played well in Spring Training, and thus were used in a platoon situation to start the season. While Martin was slightly better with the bat, neither player was able to seize control in the early going. Then it happened. Ron Washington finally decided to trust one of his young players:
It’s been his job for about 15 games. Neither one of them (Martin or Gentry) was pulling his weight with it, and then he (Martin) did.
While Craig Gentry recently went on the DL with a broken hand, Martin had been receiving consistent starts before that, and with Gentry out until at least the All-Star break, now is the time for Martin to prove that his manager made the right decision.
So far this season, Martin has put up a line of .288/.339/.452 for and OPS of .791 and a wRC+ of 110. Possibly more importantly, Martin has been a force on the basepaths with 13 stolen bases, fitting right into the aggressive style that Ron Washington loves to employ.
According to the Baseball-Reference definition of high-leverage situations, Martin has an OPS of .845, and .950 in medium-leverage situations. He's coming through in times when the team needs him most, and his two-homer game against the Yankees on Tuesday was only the latest example of how well Martin has been helping to drive an offense that is finally starting to come out of an almost month-long funk at the plate. The more time he plays in the outfield, the better his defense gets, and that can only mean good things moving forward.
With all of that said, it's now up to Martin to prove he belongs, and to reward his manager's faith. Last season, Craig Gentry had a hot streak of his own, yet was unseated when Washington elected to give David Murphy more at-bats against left-handed pitchers. I don't believe such a veteran player exists on the roster this season that Washington would feel comfortable taking a chance on. This is Martin's time to shine. He's been let out of his cage, and while I fully believe he can excel, he has to deliver on the promise of his talent.