December 19, 2014

Good Guy Octavio Martinez Finally Gets Major League Job Seven Years After Initially Being Singled Out

February 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

We have charted more than 200 people from Independent leagues who have earned non-playing opportunities in major league organizations in recent years, and one of the most heart-warming of these stories is that of longtime minor league catcher Octavio Martinez.

Although still more than a competent catcher last season with the new Sugar Land (TX) Skeeters of the Atlantic League, Martinez was in his 14th minor league season without so much as ever being invited to a major league spring training camp.  He will turn 34 in July so the odds of a breakthrough were not very realistic.

Then the unthinkable happened.  The Californian picked up a telephone message left for him by Brian Minniti, assistant general manager of the Washington Nationals.  When they finally connected, Minniti had more than a stop-gap offer, which is what Martinez thought might be coming.  The National League East favorites were looking for a second fulltime bullpen catcher.  Although the two men did not know each other well, Minniti had remembered Martinez from back in 2006 when both were in the Pittsburgh system, one as a baseball operations assistant and the other as a Double-A catcher who had just joined the Pirates after seven seasons in the Baltimore organization, including a couple of limited stints in Triple-A.

“I had kept his name in mind,” Minniti confirmed this week.  “I remembered all the positives the coaches had mentioned”, which included Martinez’s catching, his nature and the fact he was bilingual.  The Nationals put Martinez through a series of tests, including having coaches check out his catching ability once more at the team’s spring training base in Viera, FL.

Wearing uniform No . 87, Martinez has found the entire coaching staff “welcoming” and knows he will throw some batting practice, “hang out in the bullpen” with veteran bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo (“my mentor”) and do whatever he is asked to do, whether that is to warm up all-star Tyler Clippard, new closer Rafael Soriano or any other Washington hurler.

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Daniel Nava Provides ‘Inspiration’, Still Fights for Own Job

The record 55 former Independent players in major league spring training camps will bring a wealth of attention to the non-affiliated leagues and should also be a boost to every player aspiring to play professional baseball at any level.

I was reminded firsthand how important this can be recently when I interviewed Kevin Flynn, an all-Colonial Athletic Conference all-star utility selection last season at Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) who is still trying to get his first regular opportunity in an Independent league.

Daniel Nava is my inspiration,” the 25-year-old catcher blurted out.  All of the other 54 no doubt have their worshipers, as well.  Nava is a popular choice since he went from being an equipment manager in college to starting his pro career in the Golden League (Chico, CA) in ’07 and three years later debuting with that dramatic first at-bat home run for the Boston Red Sox.

 Flynn, a graduate assistant at Hofstra this season, only wants some team to call his name once again as Lincoln, NE did for the last two games of the 2012 American Association season when the Saltdogs suddenly found themselves short of catching while playing an hour or so from the Hofstra campus against the Can-Am League’s Rockland County (NY) Boulders.  The 5-foot-10 Flynn ended up catching an inning when the regular backstop got ejected, then hit a line drive single to left in his only at-bat, “making me want it (another chance) all the more”.

 Ironically, the “inspiration”, Nava, is once again battling for playing time with the Red Sox even after hitting .243 in a career-high 267 major league at-bats last season.  The switch-hitting outfielder has added a first baseman’s glove to his collection this spring since Boston needs someone, preferably a left-handed hitter, to back up newly-acquired Mike Napoli and also play the outfield.

Check the Box Scores for These Players

Based on recent history and with a long spring training because of the World Baseball Classic which runs from March 2-19, it is likely a couple dozen more recent Independent players in addition to the 55 officially in Arizona and Florida camps will get into one or more major league games.

This group most likely will include first baseman-DH John Lindsey with Detroit, first baseman-outfielder Cyle Hankerd of the Chicago White Sox, shortstop Jesus Merchan with San Diego and pitchers Chris Jakubauskas of Milwaukee, Jason Lane and Michael O’Connor with Minnesota, Mike Benacka and Austin Bibens-Dirkx of Toronto, Stu Pomeranz of Baltimore,  Mike DeMark with Arizona, and newly-re-signed Justin Hampson of the New York Mets.

     (This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball.  Forty columns are planned during 2013.  Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy the blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, which has supplemental stories, or comment to RWirz@aol.com.  The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)

 

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