With Blake Rutherford and Nick Solak now in different organizations, Staten Island Yankees right-hander Nolan Martinez is the highest pick left in the organization from the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Third Round) out of Culver City High School in Southern California.
With the MLB Draft approaching two years ago, Martinez was a day away from walking at his high school graduation, which makes his draft day experience a unique story:
“Well, I thought I was going to be drafted the first day, but that didn’t happen, not complaining. I was graduating the day after, and I got the call before I was going to walk the stage. Couldn’t ask for a better experience,” said Martinez.
Martinez only appeared in three games in his first professional season (Gulf Coast League) and then his 2017 season didn’t start until late July because of a shoulder injury. Here is what he told Josh Norris of Baseball America (subscription only) about the injury last August:
“It was a rotator cuff, and that’s one of the biggest things when it comes to pitching besides the labrum,” he said. “So I was like, ‘OK, this is kind of serious. I might as well take it slow and try not to injure it anymore or hurt it badly.'”
The now 20-year-old (turned 20 on June 30) would go into details about the toughest part about that rehab process that delayed his 2017 debut until July 18:
“Just doing the same stuff every single day, the grind. The slow-throwing program to build back up. I was trying to keep my head right and focus on what I wanted to be.”
During that 2017 season, Martinez made six appearances (five starts) and had a 0.66 ERA as he struck out 14 batters in 13.2 innings. His last outing was with Rookie-level Pulaski where he gave up two hits and struck out two batters over four innings. For Martinez, it gave him an opportunity to pitch under the lights for the first time in pro ball:
“It was nice to get my feet wet and get the experience of a short-season team. The biggest thing was I needed innings and tried to stay healthy. I wasn’t healthy at the beginning of spring training this year, but I pushed through it, and now I am here.”
When you watch Martinez pitch, he doesn’t have a lot of velocity on his fastball as it sat at about 88-90 miles-per-hour in his last start on June 26 against Tri-City. The key to his success is going to be from his offspeed pitches such as his curveball and changeup. So, how would he describe his pitch arsenal?
“Fastball is not fast, not slow, but it has good life to it. Changeup still needs a little bit of improvement on it, but it has good depth and good spin to it. I really like my curveball. I can throw it on any pitch and in any count.”
As for how his changeup has come along, Martinez mentioned how it has been on the rise since he joined the New York Yankees organization. Pitching Coach Travis Phelps also talked about the progression of that pitch since extended spring:
“We’ve adjusted it a little bit moving a little pressure on the ball. He’s showing a lot more confidence throwing it for strikes, letting it work, and letting the hitters get themselves out.”
Confidence was a keyword after that Tri-City start. After mixed results in his first outing against Lowell on June 19 (4.2 innings, four runs allowed on seven hits, three strikeouts, two walks), Martinez had a strong outing against the Valleycats. He threw six shutout innings, allowed only four hits, struck out one, and walked two.
“I had more confidence. I got the first game out of the way and the second game I had more feel,” said Martinez about the most significant improvement from start one to start two.
Despite the lack of strikeouts, Phelps mentioned how he got through it without having his best stuff that night, and the thing that stood out to him was his tenacity as he got out of some early jams and how his confidence stood out compared to the outing against Lowell:
“With the stuff that he had, it was a huge confidence builder for him to believe that he can pitch against anybody even when he doesn’t have his good stuff.”
Manager Lino Diaz echoed the same sentiments about how Martinez looked after his second start compared to his first:
“He attacked and threw strikes with his fastball and got the breaking ball over. He was in control. Some of the better hitters he had the whole day, and he went six innings. I think that’s the first time he’s gone six in his whole career. That’s a great improvement. He pitched to contact and used his defense.”
If Martinez can continue to locate his fastball for strikes and improve on the secondary pitches, then he has a bright ceiling and can show why the Yankees took him with that Third Round pick two years ago. After his most recent start against Brooklyn on July 3 (6.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 4 K’s), he is definitely trending in the right direction.