Cards' Martinez dazzles in first U.S. outing

Cards' Martinez dazzles in first U.S. outing

Cards' Martinez dazzles in first U.S. outing
JUPITER, Fla. -- If Albert Pujols' arrival was the most anticipated at Cardinals camp this spring, then Carlos Martinez's may have been the runner-up.

Martinez, a 19-year-old flamethrower from the Dominican Republic, threw on United States soil for the first time on Saturday, and to a man, Cardinals brass were thoroughly impressed. The right-hander, who received a bonus worth a reported $1.5 million when he signed with St. Louis last fall, showed off the high-voltage arm that so excited the club back in his home country.

"You can tell he's got a big-time arm," said general manager John Mozeliak, after watching Martinez throw for the first time in person.

Martinez threw a bullpen session with a significant portion of the Cardinals braintrust looking on, as the organization kicked off a Minor League mini-camp. Along with Mozeliak, attendees included assistant general manager Mike Girsch, farm director John Vuch, director of international operations Moises Rodriguez, pitching coordinator Dyar Miller, and Major League bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist, as well as a few reporters.

It was not exactly what Martinez is used to, and he showed it. During the early portion of his throwing session, he rushed quite a bit, and he was a bit erratic at times. Lilliquist had to remind him to slow down at one point. But there was no denying the velocity and life on Martinez's fastball or the bite on his breaking ball.

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"I think he was a little anxious," Rodriguez said, "but as far as the ball was coming out, as easy as it was coming out, that's him."

The Cardinals believe they have a special one in Martinez, and they were delighted to see him on Saturday.

"You could tell he was a little amped up, but he was good," Vuch said. "He's exciting."

The club expects Martinez to pitch in the United States this year rather than back in the Dominican, and it's entirely possible that he could begin his stateside pro career in full-season ball, at low Class A Quad Cities. That's a somewhat aggressive move for a youngster just arriving from the Dominican, but Martinez is no average prospect.

A club official estimated that Martinez can touch 97-99 mph and comfortably pitches in the mid-90s, and he shows potential for a plus curveball as well. He throws a changeup, though it's considered to be behind his other two offerings. But again, he is just 19.

In addition to his pitches, the Cardinals regard Martinez highly as an individual. Rodriguez explained that when a club makes an investment like it did in Martinez, much of the work is learning about the person, not just the pitcher. And despite Martinez's circuitous path to the U.S., the Cardinals have few worries about him in that regard.

His work visa was held up due to confusion about his name, but according to Rodriguez, there was no issue with any intent to deceive. Martinez's mother passed away when he was very young, and he was adopted by an uncle named Matias. So although his birth name was Martinez, he was called Matias while he was growing up. He is now, once again, known by his mother's name.

Martinez, meanwhile, is just one of a number of intriguing young players at the Cardinals' mini-camp. Minor League Spring Training starts March 8, but in the meantime, many of the organization's younger prospects are attending mini-camp. The Cardinals did not participate in instructional league ball last fall; instead, those players are in Jupiter now.

It's a group that includes 2010 supplemental first-round Draft picks and pitchers Seth Blair and Tyrell Jenkins, as well as 18-year-old Dominican outfielder Oscar Taveras. The organization is optimistic about the potential for using the mini-camp as a tool in future seasons, though nothing is set in stone just yet.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.