Message to the Cleveland Indians: Give Victor Martinez a chance.
Now is the time to see what your former Minor League Player of the Year can do against major league competition.
By now we know that you are in a rebuilding phase. You are favoring young talent over aged veterans. You are reshaping the team with new faces from the farm.
So what's the harm in promoting the 23-year-old catcher, who lately has been making Double-A look silly, to the big leagues?
"Obviously we think very highly of him," said John Mirabelli, assistant general manager. "For [general manager] Mark Shapiro's plan and the organization's plan to work, Victor Martinez has got to be a key component of that."
Heading into the Double-A Akron Aeros' game Saturday night at Harrisburg, the switch-hitting Martinez was batting an Eastern League-leading .345 with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs in 98 games.
"Obviously he's had a lot of success; the numbers speak for themselves," Mirabelli said. "Still, Victor needs some more seasoning."
Martinez, a native of Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, batted .329 with 33 doubles and 57 RBIs in 114 games last season at Class A Kinston. He was named Carolina League MVP, the Tribe's top minor leaguer and in November was placed on the Indians' 40-man roster.
"The best part of Victor is his intangibles for the position, his leadership and command of the game and his handling of a young [pitching] staff," Mirabelli said. "As he moves up, it's vital that he can do that with the pitchers and the talent we're running out there."
But the question is, when will Martinez, a former Mahoning Valley Scrapper, move to a higher level?
"I don't know if he'd be a September call-up [to the majors]. I don't know if that's part of the plan," Mirabelli said. "We're very content with him where he is right now. We want him to finish the year strong."
In the mix
How the Indians handle Martinez is based on how they plan to handle their other catchers.
Current Tribe catcher Einar Diaz has been steady. The 29-year-old Diaz is signed through the 2004 season, with an option for 2005.
Behind Diaz is another young prospect named Josh Bard, who is at Triple-A Buffalo. The 24-year-old Bard came to the Indians from the Colorado Rockies in the Jacob Cruz trade last year. Bard played 13 games with the Scrappers.
"Josh is a little bit ahead of Victor, but that enables us to be patient with Victor," Mirabelli said. "You look at them both and you envision them down the road on a major league roster."
Bard is batting .280 with five home runs and 44 RBIs in 82 games this season at Buffalo.
"He's another guy who brings a nice combination of offense and defensive value," Mirabelli said. "He's coming into his own on offense. He's made a lot of improvements this year."
But what about Martinez?
"We're talking about a position in the industry as a whole with a big shortage of these kind of players," Mirabelli said. "To have two, we feel is a huge asset."
Only one can play, though, and the Indians will be forced to make a decision that puts their best young talent on the field.
Martinez has accomplished a lot in his young career. A promotion is in order.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.