The fourth part in our series focuses on first baseman who made strides in the second half without fanfare. I could write about how amazing Matt Olson and Rhys Hoskins are, but there are dozens of articles on each of them, so they’re not under the radar. First Base is a position filled with established guys, and there were not many notable improvements in the second half. So while I’ve written about three players for every other article, first base only gets one. Whose on first you might ask? All I can tell you is I don’t know who is on third. This guy isn’t on the standard league radar quite yet, but should have a firm spot on your watchlist. He needs to be added if he gets an every day role.
Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, STL
Jose Martinez has been a favorite of mine ever since his dominant 2015 in AAA for KC. In about 400 plate appearances that year he slashed .384/.461/.563 with 10 home runs and 8 steals, good for a 177 WRC+. The guy can absolutely mash. The main reasons you were unfamiliar with him is he is very injury prone, doesn’t play defense well at any position (merely adequate at 1B), and was always old for his level. In his amazing 2015 he was already 27 years old. Guys that can hit as well as he can though, always find a way. In 2016 KC decided to DFA him to open a spot on the 40 man roster, and STL swooped in and claimed him. He finally got to the big leagues with STL in 2016 and had 18 plate appearances.
He entered 2017 finally established on the 25 man roster, and he delivered.Cardinals Devil Magic is a real thing. For the year he had a .309/.379/.518 slash line in 307 plate appearances. All of that is good for a great 135 WRC+. As hard as it is to believe for a 29 year old rookie, he got even better in the second half. After the break he hit .333/.424/.565 with a 14% BB rate and a K% of 17.4, good for a 160 WRC+! The guy just mashes the baseball, and is as pure a hitter as you can find. My favorite Jose Martinez statistic is last year when he went to the opposite field he hit .516 with a .919 slugging percentage. Yes Jose Martinez going oppo is a 1.427 OPS hitter. He hits the ball hard (26.6 LD% and 38% hard), rarely pops up, doesn’t strike out often, and uses the whole field. All defining traits of a quality hitter.
The defensive problems and injury concerns are still there. As is the insane amount of depth the Cardinals have. But if Jose Martinez finds himself in an everyday, or close to everyday role, you need to put him in your lineup. The guy hits the ball as well as anyone in the league. He also chips in steals, adding 4 in 307 plate appearances, and stealing about 10 each of the prior two years in the minors. Not bad for a guy you’ve barely heard of.