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Is Fernando Martinez Worth a Waiver Claim?

Fernando Martinez‘s time as a New York Met might be coming to an end. To make room for Ronny Cedeno and Scott Hairston on its 40-man roster, the Mets  placed Martinez on waivers. While it seems that Martinez has been around forever, the former top prospect is only 23 — which means he could be an intriguing option for some other team.

It might sound weird to say this about a guy this young, but Martinez’s time is running out. Injuries have been the main culprit behind his decline, but Martinez hasn’t been particularly impressive when he’s healthy. As his .265/.326/.465 AAA slash line demonstrates, Martinez hasn’t hit for average or displayed enough on-base skills over the past three seasons.

Martinez has always struggled with his walk rate, but his strikeout rate is now equally poor. Any player who strikes out 24% of the time in AAA — as Martinez did last season — is going to struggle to hit for average at the major-league level. Unfortunately, Martinez isn’t the type of hitter who can make up for a low average by posting strong walk totals or hitting for power.

These problems wouldn’t be as much of a concern if Martinez were still viewed as a center fielder. Due to his recent injuries, though, Martinez’s speed and range have diminished too much to handle the position. The Mets have realized this, using Martinez primarily as a corner outfielder during the past three seasons. Even if Martinez could handle center adequately, playing him there could make him more of an injury risk than slotting him in a corner. Martinez’s bat isn’t strong enough to profile at a corner outfield slot, though.

What we have here is a classic case of injuries playing havoc on a player’s development. Martinez was supposed to hit for average and develop power as he got older, but he hasn’t stayed healthy during his career. Martinez’s career high in plate appearances during one season is just 400 — and that was way back in 2008. Martinez has lost so much developmental time due to injuries that it’s unclear whether he’ll ever develop those traits. That uncertainty was fine back in 2008 — when Martinez was just 19 — but it’s a problem when four years have passed and those questions still remain.

Due to his former prospect status — and his age — it’s highly likely that a team will claim Martinez. For the price of a waiver claim, it’s tough to argue with the move. At the same time, it’s tough to really expect anything of value from Martinez next season. He hasn’t been particularly impressive when he has played, and he hasn’t been healthy enough to improve his play. He’s a low-risk buy, but it’s really tough to argue that Martinez is capable of providing a high reward anymore. It’s always possible that Martinez is just a late-bloomer — which is why a team would take a shot on him — but age and performance are no longer on his side.