SEATTLE -- The Rangers' global search for premium talent has landed them a player who they are hoping will be an impact center fielder and leadoff hitter. The price for Cuban defector Leonys Martin was a hefty $15.5 million, including a $5 million signing bonus, over five years. But the signing, announced on Wednesday, reaffirmed the Rangers' commitment under their new ownership group to be aggressive in all areas of player procurement. "This is something we are really excited about," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Our scouts worked really hard on this, doing as much homework on this as possible. We had a lot of people look at this guy and there was a lot of sentiment he could be an impact guy.
"Our ownership group has been extremely supportive and stepped up with what was a very substantial financial outlay. It shows ownership is committed to not only adding Major League talent but understands the importance of adding talent to the pipeline and keeping the organization going." Martin last played for Cuba during the FISU World University Championships in Japan last July and August. He defected shortly after that and had been working out in Mexico for Major League clubs. Martin, 23, is a left-handed hitter who had a career average of .314 over five seasons in Cuba. "He's an athletic kid," said Mike Daly, the Rangers' director of international scouting. "We feel he is a plus defender in center field. He can throw and he can run. He is a line-drive hitter with a knowledge of the strike zone and can put the ball in the gaps. We feel he is a guy who can hit, get on base and defend in center field. "He has some pull power and has strength in his swing. I wouldn't be surprised if he hits some home runs. But that's not his approach. He uses all fields, knows the strike zone and has a leadoff-hitter type of approach. On the basepaths, he is an instinctive player. He's smart. He runs naturally, but he has a chance to have an impact with his knowledge and instincts." Daly saw Martin play in Japan last year, and a number of Rangers officials, including top advisors A.J. Preller and Don Welke, saw him in Mexico. Most significant was the work of Latin American scout Jose Fernandez, who has a Cuban background and has known Martin for many years. Any international free-agent signing can be hit-or-miss, but Daniels said Martin possesses some intangibles beyond his physical talent that attracted the Rangers. "First of all, his intelligence, aptitude and makeup all graded out strong," Daniels said. "He's not just an athlete who doesn't know how to use his talent. He's able to make adjustments. He is a guy who controls the strike zone in international competition and gets on base." Martin will also have help. His father and girlfriend are already in the country. "Having a network of family and friends will help him in the process of being a big league player," Daniels said. "There were a lot of little factors that made us feel this guy is a good bet." Martin is currently working out in Surprise, Ariz., and playing in extended spring games. He had a walk and a stolen base in his first plate appearance on Wednesday. He hasn't faced much live pitching since his defection, so the Rangers want him to play in Arizona until they believe he's ready for Minor League competition. He will most likely start at Double-A Frisco. He was added to the 40-man roster, so there is a possibility he could be an option for the Rangers at the Major League level at some point during the season. But that is not in the works right now. "I wouldn't rule it out, but we're not focused on that," Daniels said. "A lot of it will depend on his development and our needs." Julio Borbon is currently the Rangers' starting center fielder. "He's swinging the bat better lately," Daniels said of Borbon. "We need him to help our club right now. Julio has a chance to help our club for a long time. But as we go forward, we want to have as many options and depth as we can. Things happen. You think you're set at a position, and all of sudden a set of unusual circumstances come up and you have to improvise on the fly." The Rangers have been relentless, especially on the international free-agent market, in acquiring players who are considered premium athletic talents in the middle of the field: catcher, shortstop and center field. Some of their best position-player prospects, including center fielders Craig Gentry and Engel Beltre, fit that description. Beltre has been playing center field for Frisco, although he is currently serving a 10-game suspension for his involvement in an altercation with fans in San Antonio last week. If at some point Beltre and Martin find themselves in the same Frisco outfield, they could alternate between center and right field.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.