The wait is finally over, and mon dieu, after an entire season (2020) lost to COVID cancellations, what a wait it’s been.
A year-and-a-half after completing his last pro season in the United States, with the rookie-advanced level Rocky Mountain Vibes, in Colorado, Franco-Cuban phenom Ernesto Martínez Jr. is only now getting a chance to test his talents again in Minor League Baseball (MiLB).
From the Dominican Republic, where he lives and trains in the offseason, the tall, powerfully built Milwaukee Brewers prospect departs this week for Phoenix, Arizona, where he’ll report for training camp before being assigned to his next MiLB assignment, hopefully at the single-A level.
“I’m ready for competition again,” the 21-year-old told Le Baseblog this week from his home near San Pedro de Macorís, on the Dominican Republic’s southern coast. “I’m ready for the season, and I’m hoping to hit 20 home runs this year.”
Hitting the gym
A lost season is difficult to swallow, and not just for older athletes whose playing days may be nearing an end. Time is of the essence for young baseballers too, for whom every season — especially at the hyper-competitive MiLB and Major League Baseball (MLB) levels — can be make or break.
Momentum is key, and that’s precisely what the COVID crisis ended up costing Martínez Jr. and all the other prospects trying to make their way up the professional baseball ladder. Little wonder that the hard-hitting position player describes his way-too-long offseason as “a little frustrating.”
That’s an understatement, of course. But it also speaks to Martínez Jr.’s penchant for keeping things in perspective. “Everyone lost a year,” he points out. “It is what it is. And so I spent time in the gym. A lot of time in the gym!”
That’s the other thing: Martínez Jr. can certainly feel positive about how he spent all that unexpected “down” time: building up his strength, but also taking advantage of his connections and surroundings — in one the most baseball-fertile corners of the globe — to work on this game alongside some of the biggest names in the sport.
Training with the stars
The son of retired catcher Ernesto Martínez Sr., an accomplished Cuban player who enjoyed a long, late-career run in France’s elite-division D1 league, the younger Ernesto made his own formative foray into French baseball as a teenager, when he entered the Pôle France baseball academy in Toulouse.
He later played alongside his father on the D1’s Sénart Templiers, and as a member of the French national team, for which he was called up again last year for a World Baseball Classic qualifier tournament in Arizona that was cancelled, unfortunately, at the 11th hour due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The father and son duo now reside in the Dominican Republic, where Ernesto Martínez Jr. has been training for several years with an even more famous baseball dad: Fernando Tatís Sr. A former big leaguer, Tatís Sr. spent time with five different clubs — starting with the Texas Rangers and ending with the New York Mets — during a 13-year MLB career that began in 1997.
As good as Tatís Sr. was, his son, budding MLB superstar Fernando Tatís Jr. of the San Diego Padres, may be better still, and it’s been Ernesto Martínez Jr.’s good fortune to not only have the father as a coach, but to work out on a regular basis with the super-talented son as well.
The learning curve
In recent months, the Brewers prospect has trained with other big leaguers too, including Edwin Encarnación, currently with the Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez. And getting a chance to study them up close, the biggest lesson Martínez Jr. has learned is that the secret to their success — the difference maker — is consistency.
Talent, he’s realized, is only part of the equation. It’s not just skill alone that separates the good players from the great ones, but the ability to channel that ability so as to perform on a steady, regular basis.
“What I try to do is look at what they focus on, and what they’re zeroed in on is being consistent,” he told Le Baseblog. “The ones who are playing [at the MLB level] are there because they’re consistent, showing what they know how to do.”
In 2018, playing with a rookie-level team in Arizona, Martínez Jr. hit .224 in 35 games. The following year, with the Rocky Mountain Vibes, he improved across the board, batting .262 with 6 home runs and 25 RBIs in 48 games.
The goal now is to keep that upward trajectory going, to be more consistent, in other words, hit for even more power, and keep getting closer to his ultimate goal of earning a roster spot in Milwaukee.