The Washington Times - August 6, 2008, 08:30PM

By JAY LeBLANC
August 14, 2008

At first glance, Fernando Martinez‘ statistics with the double-A Binghamton Mets - .271 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 236 at bats last year; .288 with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 285 at bats so far this season - probably strike you as solid but unspectacular. But take a moment to consider that he posted those numbers in his age 18 and 19 seasons while playing against older, more experienced players, and you’ll begin to understand why Baseball America ranked the 6’ 1”, 190-pound outfielder as the No. 1 prospect in the Mets organization and the 20th best in all of baseball entering this year.

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Martinez, who hails from the Dominican Republic, was considered the top talent in Latin America in 2005 when he signed with the New York Mets for a $1.4 million bonus as a 16-year-old. Since then, the Mets have pushed him aggressively through their minor league system, and he has thus far responded well to each challenge with which he’s been presented. He hit .333 and made the South Atlantic League All-Star team as a 17-year-old in 2006, and though he struggled after a promotion to advanced Class A, he held his own that autumn as the youngest player in the history of the Arizona Fall League. Last season, he ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the double-A Eastern League despite being the circuit’s youngest player by nearly two years on Opening Day. His precociousness has been rewarded with trips to the past two Futures Games.

Martinez still needs some work in the outfield - he’s a center fielder now, but will likely end up as a corner outfielder in the long run - and on the base paths, where his good speed has yet to translate to even double-digit stolen base totals. The main thing holding Martinez back - besides inexperience - is his inability to stay on the field. A hand injury ended his 2007 season in July, and he’s struggled with recurring right hamstring problems this year. Regardless, the Mets love his quick bat and have never been afraid to challenge him, so expect them to insert him into the big league lineup as soon as they think he can handle it. I recently had a chance to speak with Martinez:

Q: The Mets have been aggressive in advancing you through their minor league system. How much do you think that’s helped your development?

A: Oh, you know, it’s great. It’s my third year here in the Mets organization, and I want to keep getting better and keep taking it to the next level.

Q: You recently played in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. What was that experience like?

A: It was great, man. Everything was different; the people, New York, Yankee Stadium. It was great to play there.

Q: Your game is still developing, but when it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a leadoff hitter or a middle-of-the-order guy?

A: I don’t know, I don’t know really. I’m leadoff right now mainly because I don’t play too many games. I hit leadoff here so I have more at bats, but I don’t know.

Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you try to get into the pitcher’s head, or do you just react to what’s thrown?

A: (Laughs.) You know, sometimes you try figure the pitcher out.

Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to work on this year?

A: Right now I’m working on everything. I’m working in the outfield, because I’ve been playing center field. Right now I’m working on the corners - left, right. I’m also working on my hitting … I try to work on everything.

Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?

A: Not really. Not really.

Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Mets?

A: I don’t know. I don’t know when. I work hard every day and hopefully help my team, and get better.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles.