What’s With Martin Maldonado?
My first thought after Martin Maldonado left Target Field last night, blasting a homer to left center in the top of the ninth against the Twins, was “the fluke continues.” (Well, actually, my first reaction was unbridled giddiness followed by uncontrollable sobbing, but that’s typical for me on a Friday night). After all, Maldonado’s power surge — four homers in 49 big league plate appearances and a .548 SLG — are Princely at this point and are simply unsustainable, right? The short answer, I believe, is “yes.” However, there might be some room for encouragement about Maldonado’s prospects as a useful big league hitter.
Reports on Maldonado in the minors were of a “great D, light stick” player. In general, that would appear to be true. In nearly 2000 minor league plate appearances covering 542 games, his triple slash is an underwhelming .236/.313/.333 for a less-than-inspiring .646 OPS. But when that is broken down and put in context, maybe there is more to Martin than meets the eye.
Maldonado was drafted as a 17 year old by the Angels in 2004. (I am going to assume his age is accurate as he is from Puerto Rico and not the Dominican.) LAA released him in 2007 and MKE signed him. Can’t really blame the Angels for dumping him; in three rookie league seasons his OPS was cumulatively under .600. But when he was released, he was just 20.
While Maldonado didn’t exactly light it up during his seasons riding the buses of the Sally League, Florida State League and the Southern League, he seemed to perk up with age and experience. His triple slash at Triple A is a much more intriguing .262/.331/.436, accomplished over parts of four seasons in which he played about the equivalent of a MLB season for a starting catcher: 133 games and 519 plate appearances. Interestingly, his big league BA is currently .262–exactly what it was over those four AAA seasons. While his MLB OPS of nearly .900 isn’t likely to hold, the Brewers wouldn’t be in bad shape if he settled in with his AAA OPS of .767. That would certainly play.
The point here is not to proclaim Jon Lucroy tradebait and to herald the arrival of the Next Great Catcher — I don’t think that is the case. But I also believe that my earlier analogy, stated on Twitter a week or so back, that Maldonada is the next Henry Blanco , might not be as apt as it first seemed. What Martin is doing in his first weeks as a MLB catcher is not completely out of the box (although it should be noted that Blanco’s AAA numbers were strong, too, but he was kicking around the bushes until he was 27). Sure, Maldonado’s present totals are likely unsustainable, but his AAA data supports the possibility that the 25 year old is maturing into a player that can carry his offensive weight and be something other than a defense-only catcher in MLB. At the minimum, there is reason to believe that might be the case.