One of the benefits of being a fan of a Major League baseball team who isn't faring particularly well in the standings is that it sometimes gives you a chance to see a lot of young talent in action. If the team doesn't have a shot at the playoffs, then it makes sense to call up some of the minor leaguers to see if they can contribute at the big league level.
One such player is Ethan Martin, a right-handed pitcher who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last season in the Shane Victorino trade. He wasn't a can't-miss pitching prospect, but he struck out enough hitters in the minors to be an intriguing prospect for the Phillies. Coming into the season, Martin was ranked the 80th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.
Following a series of injuries that resulted in a thinning out of the pitching staff, Martin was summoned from Triple-A to make his first Major League start against the Atlanta Braves on August 2. Through six starts, Martin has a 2-3 record, and a 6.39 ERA. Things aren't exactly going as planned for the young hurler, despite a semi-impressive start on Thursday, where he struck out nine batters in four innings of work against the New York Mets.
And so far in his young Major League career, it is wildly evident that Martin excels at two things: striking guys out, and not going deep into games. In his six starts with the Phillies, Martin has pitched into or past the sixth inning just once – it was on August 19, when he pitched 6.1 innings against the Colorado Rockies. His other five starts go like so: 4.1, 5, 5, 0.2, and 4. Roy Halladay, he is not. This isn't exactly a new development, either, as Martin has averaged just over 5.1 innings per start in 21 games this season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. If you need a starter to go deep into a game, then look elsewhere.
On the flip side, Martin has no problem getting strikeouts. The K has been his chief export in his five year professional career, with a K/9 rate in the 582 minor league innings of 9.0, thanks in part to a mid-90s fastball and some decent breaking and off-speed pitches. That ability has followed him down the turnpike to Philadelphia (so far), where his K/9 is exceeding 10.0 through six games. In fact, watching him strike guys out has been one of the only reasons to watch his starts, as he unfortunately brings to the table an inability to limit the free passes.
It's way too early to really know for sure what Martin is going to be, because six games is a very small sample size from which to judge a pitcher. However, the fact that Martin has displayed – throughout his minor league career- an inability to go deep into games, it's not unrealistic to think that he is destined for the bullpen. Which is precisely where the Phillies should put him.
One of the reasons the Phillies had such a good team in 2008 was because they didn't give up leads late in the game. Between Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon, and Scott Eyre, they had in their possession several arms who possessed the ability to strike batters out. It's the greatest weapon in the arsenal of a pitcher, because it takes defense and bad luck completely out of the equation. If there is a runner on third base with nobody out, a strikeout won't bring him home.
And that's why Martin is an ideal candidate for the 2014 bullpen. He can miss bats better than a lot of the pitchers on the roster, and if the season ended today, he'd have the second-highest K/9 on the team. Even though he has control issues, his stuff would play a lot better in the late innings of a close game because he can erase his mistakes with strikeouts. Martin, combined with Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, and Justin DeFratus, could give opposing hitters fits in the late innings with their high-powered arsenal.
It's a big if, and Martin may very well find his way back to the rotation next season depending on how good a job Ruben Amaro does in bringing in additional starters, but such a move could cost the bullpen an impact arm. So far in his young career, Martin has been somewhat impressive. He's only 24, and he figures to only get better as he ages, but for now, his skill set will better serve him – and the Phillies – in the bullpen.