The winter meetings kick off next week in Orlando, and with it comes the tons-of-fun Rule 5 Draft. Though the increase in its popularity has been coupled with the steady decrease of useful picks, many teams use it to take chances on bounce-back players to fill out a big league bench or bullpen. There have not been any true impact position players taken for at least 7 years, especially since the change in rules for eligibility a few years ago. Outfielder J.D. Martinez was removed from the 40-man roster November 20th while putting together an impressive winter league season in Venezuela. Since then he has done nothing but continue to show an improved look at the plate, and teams that have noticed could take advantage of one of the best value Rule 5 picks in years.
Injuries have taken a toll on Martinez’s big league numbers, with 2011 representing the last season he contributed better than replacement value. However, he is not far removed from the guy that blasted through the minor leagues to the tune of a .928 OPS, and was considered a lineup building block for the rebuilding Astros just two seasons ago. Through 81 at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League, J.D. has torn the cover off the ball to the tune of a .333/.402/.630 line with 6 home runs. He has undergone some pretty impressive swing improvements since he finished his injury-riddled Major League season, which I will explore further in this article. Quick synopsis? J.D. is showing a tremendously better ability to drive the ball to center and right-center fields due to a change in swing path and lower half stability.