Fernando Martinez is the Incredible Shrinking Prospect.
Since 2007, he's moved down on Baseball America's Top 100 list from the 20th to 30th to 77th position. Now, according an e-mail from BA editor Jim Callis, he's off the list. All this has happened before Martinez's 22nd birthday. Is it him, or is it a curse of expectations that became too high?
Martinez has spent this season with Triple-A Buffalo. A recent surge, after Callis sent his e-mail, has his average up to .256. He has struck out 59 times and walked just 17, a ratio the sabermetricians hate. But he has 12 homers in 258 at-bats with an isolated slugging (batting average minus slugging average) above .200. That's at the level of most developing sluggers.
Martinez will turn 22 in October and still may be capable of playing center field. This may be too stubborn, but he deserves a much higher ranking. Remember, some players drafted in the first round this year are about Martinez's age and some get shipped to the low Minors. What would a still 21-year-old center fielder with 20 homers in 419 Triple-A at-bats fetch? I can't imagine that 10 players get picked ahead of that and maybe not even five. That should make him a top-100 prospect.
There's still a reasonable chance, not much worse than it is for anyone, that Martinez will be the impact hitter that was initially forecast. Granted, this is still unlikely (as it is with all prospects), but it's closer to 50/50 than it is to zero. If you doubt this rough sketch of prospect probability, consider that Jeremy Hermida was once the consensus "next great hitter" and this week was designated for assignment by the Red Sox.
I'm not a scout, but I play with some professional ones in a serious 20-team, 40-man-roster dynasty league (meaning teams keep the players forever, so we're basically scouting junior high). From the Baseball America 2010 Midseason Top 25 Prospects, here are the hitters that Fernando Martinez is better than. In this case, "better" meaning more likely to be an impact player.
Lonnie Chisenhall (3B, Indians, 19th)
Aaron Hicks (OF, Twins, 9th)
Dustin Ackley (2B, Mariners, 7th)
Desmond Jennings (OF, Rays, 3rd)
This list will generate lots of controversy. But Chisenhall is four days older and has a lower OPS at a lower level (Double-A). Hicks is "toolsy" and walks but is only a year younger than Martinez and barely hitting better in the the Class A Midwest League. Ackley is nearly a year older than Martinez and is slugging just .400 in the Pacific Coast League. Jennings is about to turn 24 and has regressed in Triple-A this year, across the board.
Why the lack of love? The Mets organization rightfully gets little respect. They've made a lot of mistakes of late, so skepticism abounds. The Jennings-Martinez cognitive dissonance especially is, as best as I can tell, completely a product of the level of love the surging Rays are given relative to the floundering Mets. Perhaps this is justified. But I look at prospects and their numbers in a vacuum because no one has a magic formula for picking and developing them.