2022 Vancouver Canadians outfielder Gabby Martinez steps up to the plate in this edition of C’s Chat.
Canadians fans missed out on seeing Toronto Blue Jays top hitting prospect Orelvis Martinez at Nat Bailey Stadium in 2021 and 2022. Last year, the C’s had to play their home games in Hillsboro due to the Canada/U.S. border closure caused by the pandemic. When the slugging shortstop/third baseman hit .308 with two home runs in spring training for the Jays this year, Orelvis was assigned to Double-A New Hampshire instead of YVR. However, the Martinez void was filled in 2022 when Gabriel ‘Gabby’ Martinez made his way to the Nat for the final month-and-a-half of the season.
The Blue Jays were checking in on Venezuelan signee (and future 2021-2022 Canadians pitcher) Alejandro Melean when Martinez drew their attention. Director of Latin American operations Sandy Rosario signed the Maracaibo, Venezuela native on his 16th birthday on July 24, 2018.
Baseball America called Martinez the Blue Jays top Venezuelan signing in 2018.
“Signed at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, Martinez has added strength since then, drawing the Blue Jays’ attention for his righthanded swing and athleticism. He loads up with a leg kick and has a moving parts swing that relies on being on time with his sequencing with an all-fields approach. He’s a 50-55 runner who shows solid defensive instincts in center field, though given his physical projection, he probably ends up in a corner.”
Before beginning his pro career with the Blue Jays, Martinez joined the Zulia Eagles of the Venezuelan Winter League for the 2018-2019 season. The Águilas del Zulia was the team he cheered for growing up in Maracaibo and he was going up against players whose average age was 27 according to Baseball Reference as a 16 year-old. He singled in his lone at-bat and played four innings in left field over two games.
The 2019 season saw Martinez join the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays. He had a single and a walk against the DSL White Sox in his first professional contest on June 1. That was the start of a seven-game hitting streak to boost his batting average to .300. He belted his first professional home run and walked twice against the DSL Reds on July 4. Though Martinez went deep again against the DSL DBacks1 squad on August 7, it was an up-and-down year for him as he batted .239 with 28 runs batted in and eight stolen bases in 58 games.
The next step up the ladder for Martinez came in 2021 when he made his U.S. debut for the Florida Complex League Blue Jays. He reached base with an infield single on the first pitch he saw on American soil as part of a 3-for-5 day at the dish against the FCL Phillies on June 28. His batting average dipped to .229 on July 19 but that was the start of a 23-game on-base streak that included seven multi-hit games. Martinez slashed .330/.442/.441, drew 21 walks against 18 strikeouts and stole seven bases in nine tries. That earned him a late-call up to Dunedin where he reached base four times with three hits and a walk and scored the winning run in his Florida State League debut against Clearwater on September 17. He batted .333 in his three-game trial with the D-Jays to end the season.
The only downside to 2021 for Martinez was the lack of power as he did not hit a home run. He returned to Dunedin to start 2022 and though he hit his first Florida State League home run against Fort Myers on April 21, his batting average sank to .158 a week later. He did end April with hits in his last two games and that was the springboard to a 13-game hitting streak that included four straight games with two hits apiece. His power stroke began to emerge as he hit eight home runs in May, including a two-homer game against St. Lucie on May 26. That effort helped Martinez earn Florida State League Player of the Week honours on May 23-29 in which he batted .435 with three homers and 11 runs batted in. He also took home the FSL Player of the Month award for May after driving in 28 runs and compiling an on-base-plus-slugging mark of 1.094. Unfortunately, Martinez suffered a left wrist fracture during a game against Clearwater on May 31 and had to be replaced by Hugo Cardona during a third inning at-bat which ended with a strikeout.
After a three-game stint at the Florida Complex League in early July to knock off the rust, Martinez resumed terrorizing Florida State League pitchers with a two-run home run in his first at-bat. He also added a double against Clearwater July 6 to kick off a seven-game hitting streak. His best game was a 4-for-4 day at the dish with a walk, a double and three runs scored at St. Lucie on July 16.
In August, Martinez would leave one more parting gift for Dunedin as his two-run home run in Lakeland helped the D-Jays split a doubleheader on August 4. Two days later, Martinez got the call to go to Vancouver and was in the lineup for the August 7 series finale against Tri-City. He homered in just his second Northwest League at-bat to key a comeback win against the Dust Devils.
Martinez’s steady contributions with the bat continued throughout the month of August as he finished a triple shy of the cycle in a win at Spokane on August 30. After an OPS of .932 in August, Martinez kept his batting average over .300 in September thanks to a five-game hitting streak that culminated with a home run against Eugene in the regular season finale on September 11 to give him a batting line of .324/.381/.490 with 11 extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 28 games with the C’s.
In the Northwest League final, Martinez had at least one hit in all three games, bookending the series with two-hit efforts. He drove in the game-tying run in the ninth with an RBI double but was left stranded in scoring position as the C’s suffered an extra-inning, season-ending loss.
That at-bat could very well be the final one for Martinez in the Blue Jays organization. Despite a breakout season, the 20-year-old Martinez was not added to Toronto’s 40-man roster at the end of the season. That means he can be picked by another team in the Rule 5 draft which will be held on December 7. The Jays are gambling Martinez will not be taken or that he will not stick on the major league roster of another team for the entirety of the 2023 campaign and will be returned to Toronto.
Baseball America updated its scouting report on Martinez during the 2022 season.
“Martinez has impressed scouts with his bat speed and feel to hit. There’s projectable power in his frame and good barrel control. He shows above-average bat-to-ball skills, but his approach can get aggressive at times as he’s prone to expand the zone. He has enough bat-to-ball skills and power to get by with a certain level of chase, as he’s able to make contact with pitches on the fringes of the zone. He’s a corner outfield-only player with average defensive skills, and is most comfortable in left field. It’s a profile where he’ll have to hit but he has the baseline bat-to-ball skills and bat speed to make it work.”
C’s Plus Baseball chatted with Martinez with the help of Vancouver Canadians mental skills and performance coach Raul Pimentel. This interview—which took place during the final regular season homestand of 2022—has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – When did you get started playing baseball?
Gabby Martinez (translation from Raul Pimentel) – I started to play when I was very young. My whole family plays baseball and it’s something very important for us. My grandfather was the one who took me to the stadium when I was a little boy for the first time and that’s why baseball is very special for me.
CPB – You’re from Maracaibo. Was there a team you cheered for growing up?
GM – I followed the Águilas del Zulia (Zulia Eagles). That is the team from my city. I’ve always been rooting for that team.
CPB – You got to play one game and you got a hit ini you’re only at-bat. What do you remember about that?
GM – I was really nervous. It was a very emotional at-bat. I was very excited and I was so happy that I was able to get a hit there. And yeah, it was only my first at-bat and I was a little bit nervous but I think it went pretty well.
CPB – You were 15 at the time. The average age (in the Venezuelan Winter League) was 27 so you’re playing against much older competition. What was that like?
GM – My mindset is baseball is the same everywhere. Age doesn’t matter. If you say to yourself and convince yourself that you’re going to do good and you’re going to play hard, things are going to happen. Everybody can do that.
CPB – How did you wind up with the Blue Jays? I understand you have an uncle who’s a scout with the Blue Jays but how did that all develop?
GM – The Blue Jays team came up because Alejandro Melean, who is a pitcher from my hometown, used to play with me at the academy. The Blue Jays usually go there to see him but then at the same time were seeing me. So that’s when the Blue Jays were interested.
CPB – How did it feel to sign your first professional contract with the Blue Jays?
GM – It was very special because I didn’t sign as a July 2 guy. I signed on my birthday so it was very special to have those two special moments together there, so I was very happy for it.
CPB – Did you have a favourite major league team or player growing up?
GM – I always liked Mike Trout. I liked Toronto, Boston – teams with big fan bases. Big market teams.
CPB – What was your first professional season like with the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays? I know it was maybe not your best season you wanted but how was it adjusting to professional baseball that first season and the early day games?
GM – Even though it wasn’t the season that I wanted, I think I learned a lot of things in the season. I learned about professional baseball and how things develop.
CPB – You play early in the day. What was that like?
GM – You have to wake up a lot early, very early, to do a lot of things to get ready to play at 12:00 p.m., where the sun is out. It’s a little bit hard and your body feels it. However we always go with the same emotion. We always go there because this is what you love.
CPB – In 2020, COVID canceled the minor league season. How did you get through that?
GM – It was crazy, man. It was crazy because you never know what time (the Blue Jays) are going to call you. So what you have to do is keep working, working, working to be ready for whenever that time comes. That’s what I did. So whenever the opportunity came, I was able to be ready and continue my career.
CPB – You make your way to the United States for your next season (in 2021) and it went really well. What was that experience like playing in Dunedin?
GM – The 2020 off-season was key for me. I was able to work very hard, work on my body, work on myself and come here to make a very different impression in 2021 and I think it paid dividends.
CPB – Was there anything mechanically you did as far as hitting went?
GM – I made some adjustments mentally because sometimes when you start to overthink and try to do too much is when you start going around the ball or doing extra stuff you don’t need. So when you keep it simple, you are able to just let the ball come and hit it very well.
CPB – Here in 2022, you had a bit of a slow start but in the month of May, you were on fire. What was working well for you?
GM – It is my first full season. I wanted everything to go very well at the beginning. I wanted everything to be perfect so I started putting a little pressure on myself. But when I started relaxing, just having fun and going to play the game, things are starting to come well and this is where we’re seeing now.
CPB – You got hit in the wrist and you were out for about a month but it seemed like it didn’t slow you down too much. How long did it take for you to finally feel somewhat a hundred percent?
GM – The team explained to me the injury is not going to get worse. We just need to continue running through it and doing my treatment in the right way and it’s going to be fine. So after two weeks of playing, in the second week, I was feeling at my best.
CPB – How did you feel about winning the Florida State League Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards in May and how did you find out about them?
GM – For the player of the week, I was just lying in my bed when I found out but for the player of the month, I was already injured. The day before my surgery, I went to the stadium to pick up my things and the team did a meeting in there to announce it and it was very special for me.
CPB – You get called up to Vancouver. How did you find out about it?
GM – It was after a doubleheader in Lakeland against the (Flying) Tigers. It was a rollercoaster for me because I was not expecting that, because I got injured. I thought the team maybe was going to leave me there (in Dunedin) to recover but they gave me this chance and I’m just super excited to be here.
CPB – Your very first game here, in your second at-bat, you hit a home run. How did that feel?
GM – My first at-bat, I was a little bit nervous because there was so many people, but hey, in the second at-bat, I feel that energy. I feel the excitement of this stadium. Let’s go, let’s go play baseball. That’s what I know, that’s what I know what to do. I just went there and did my thing.
CPB – What do you remember about that at-bat? Were you looking for a certain pitch?
GM – I usually go there and wait for the fastball. He gave me the fastball I was looking for and thank God I was able to make very good contact there.
CPB – The difference between Dunedin and Vancouver, Has there been a big difference from Single-A to High-A?
GM – When you come here, the pitchers have a little bit better control of their pitches and the locations especially. So you need to be able to make adjustments because you don’t make adjustments between at-bats or in the at-bats, pitches are going to beat you up. So if you’re able to make adjustments, you’re going to be just fine.
CPB – How would you describe yourself as a player if you have to give a scouting report on yourself?
GM – A very good contact hitter, somebody that will have very good discipline at the plate and a very good outfielder. I know I have things to improve, but however, those are the three ways I describe myself.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 12 with the Florida Coast League Blue Jays and number 1 with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2021. Wore number 50 with the FCL Jays and 20 with Dunedin in 2022.
- Instagram – @gabbymartinezz_
- Baseball Connection – Uncle Alirio Ledezma is the Jays scout in Maracaibo, Venezuela and pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005.
- Baseball America rankings – Rated number 14 prospect and the best hitter for average in the Blue Jays minor league system.
Un millón de gracias to Gabby Martinez, translator Raul Pimentel and play-by-play announcer Tyler Zickel for making this C’s Chat a reality.