The Oakland Athletics are dealing with one of the best problems an organization can have: too much starting pitching. Oakland's top prospect list is littered with high-upside starters. That ever-increasing depth, however, has forced other solid starters to the bullpen. Among them is Beloit's Seth Martinez who, despite previous success as a starter within the A's organization, is thriving in his new relief role.
"It's definitely a different mindset," Martinez, 23, said of his first experience as a full-time reliever. "You don't have time to think about much. Your names called, the adrenaline kicks in and you're ready to go."
The A's selected the right-handed Martinez, a native of Peoria, Ariz., in the 17th round of the 2016 draft following a solid three-year career at Arizona State. Primarily used as a starter, Martinez pitched to a 3.50 ERA in 244 innings for the Sun Devils. He blossomed in his junior year, posting a 2.75 ERA while striking out 94 in 111 1/3 innings.
That success translated to the righty's full-season debut in 2017. After making just four appearances between the rookie Arizona League Athletics and Short-Season A Vermont, Martinez was tested at Class A Beloit, and did not disappoint. Martinez spun a 3.49 ERA in 20 games (10 starts), bouncing between the rotation and bullpen as part of the "piggyback" system that Oakland often employs in low levels of the minors. He struck out 73 while walking just 19 in 95.1 innings, and his 1.14 WHIP was among Midwest League leaders.
Martinez, a methodic worker, attributes much of his success to his mental state while on the mound, which revolves around "taking it one pitch at a time."
"Mentally I've gotten more in tune with myself, in tune with how my body works," Martinez said of his development since being drafted. "I've gotten stronger just confidence-wise. I always go back to taking it one pitch at a time. I said that stuff in college, but now I know the true meaning [behind that saying] because we're out here everyday… just knowing that you're going to have your ups and downs, and trying to learn from failure."
The A's threw Martinez a curveball this past offseason with the knowledge that he would be used as a full-time reliever for the first time. It seems he was up for the challenge, however: with a 2.90 ERA in 59 innings over 34 games, Martinez has been arguably the Snappers most reliable reliever in 2018. His 13 saves lead Beloit and rank fourth in the Midwest League.
The new pitch Martinez added to his arsenal prior to the 2018 season may have a role in his success in the bullpen.
"I got a new pitch this year, the sinker," he said. "I worked on the sinker grip, which really gave me more action on my fastball, something that I can kind of go to down in the count and get a groundball."
The sinker seems to be paying dividends for Martinez. In 2017, his groundout-to-flyout ratio was 0.9; that number has escalated to 1.31 in 2018.
Thanks to his experience as a starter, Martinez's repertoire is more diverse than that of the average reliever. Aside from the sinker, which lives in the upper 80s, he features a four-seam fastball (88-91 MPH), a straight change-up (83-85) and slider (80-82).
"I do go for strikeouts, but at the same time I don't consider myself a strikeout pitcher," said Martinez of his mindset on the mound. "I do of course want to have that aggression to strike out the batter, but at the same time, my stats say that I don't really strike out many people.
"I just try to focus on executing each pitch, knowing what I want to do with this pitch depending on the situation and just trying to make sure that I'm visualizing that pitch happening before I throw it. Once I let go of the ball, whatever happens, happens… just trying to control what I can control."
Despite his great success coming out of the 'pen so far in 2018, Martinez sees himself as a starter in the long run, but will answer to whatever the A's ask of him.
"I like to start more. I feel like I'm more of a starting pitcher with my arsenal and the way I pitch," Martinez said. "But I mean also, I feel I've been doing pretty well this year out of the 'pen. I have a preference for starting, but I think I have the ability to just pitch whenever I need to pitch."
The Beloit Snappers are a member of the Midwest League and have been the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics since 2013. For more ticket information, contact the Snappers office at (608) 362-2272 or on our website, www.snappersbaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.