Prized import Martin impresses at introduction

Prized import Martin impresses at introduction

Prized import Martin impresses at introduction
ARLINGTON -- Cuban-born outfielder Leonys Martin made an indelible impression Wednesday during his introductory press conference as the Rangers' newest addition to the organization.

The 23-year-old smiled for the cameras as he donned his new Rangers jersey. He gave a lengthy opening speech that general manager Jon Daniels said spoke to Martin's humble demeanor.

Martin, who will debut in center field for Double-A Frisco on Thursday night, didn't shy away from saying what the day meant to him.

"Today is an unforgettable moment for myself," Martin said. "This is something I've always dreamed of, is to play at the highest level in the world, which is the Major Leagues. That was the idea, to get to the highest level of baseball. I'm very proud to be in this organization and have my dream come true."

Martin is the Rangers' most significant entry into the Cuban free-agent market -- the club invested $15.5 million over five years. Martin could be arbitration-eligible after the fourth year.

For now, the focus is on Martin leaving Cuba for the United States and getting adjusted. Neither he nor the Rangers would get into how Martin arrived in the States, but he is here with his father and girlfriend, which should make the transition easier.

"That was a big step for me," Martin said. "I'm happy. It will keep me from worrying about things, having them here. My father has always been somebody I looked up to and somebody who kept me on the right path in my career."

Martin was in Arizona working in extended spring training after arriving 10 days ago. He batted .438 (7-for-16) with three walks in five games.

"He did everything the [scouts] expected," Daniels said. "He gets on base. He has an intelligent approach at the top of the order. He has a line-drive approach. He showed he was a tough out. He stole bases, he bunted, he's a plus runner.

"We expected there to be some rust, but to his credit, he did very well. He faced young competition, but it's still live games. We're ready to give him the next challenge."

"He's a talented guy. You can see from listening to him he's very humble and has a professional temperament about him."
-- Jon Daniels

Martin last played for the Cuban national team in Japan during the FISU World University Championships in July and August, defecting from his home country at some point after that tournament. The 6-foot-1 outfielder bats left-handed and throws right. He played for Cuba in several world events, including tournaments in Japan and The Netherlands. He had a career .314 batting average over five seasons with Villa Clara in the Cuban League.

Martin is the next in line of Cuban position players to make the American jump, joining the White Sox's Alexei Ramirez, Toronto's Yunel Escobar and Colorado's Rafael Betancourt. Prior to that, it had mainly been a pitching explosion. Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras were the most notable early Cuban defectors.

Their success in the Major Leagues was part of the reason for the timing of Martin's arrival.

"That's part of it," Martin said. "I know my game and I see how they've played, and they've had success. Working hard and playing, I can achieve that kind of success."

Martin actually said he sees the most similarity in his game with the Mets' Dominican shortstop, Jose Reyes, who is known for his speed on the bases.

"He's one of the players I look up to because we have a similar type of game," Martin said.

The Rangers' only worry since Martin arrived was an ankle he turned on Tuesday, but that turned out to be OK. They see no other problems ahead with the transition.

"He's been in a lot of international competition," said Mike Daly, the Rangers' director of international scouting. "Cuba has a very good league as well. He's shown the ability to perform in Cuba and on the international stage. He'll be prepared there in Frisco. It's been a while since he's had a lot of consistent at-bats. But we feel like he's ready to go out to Frisco and compete."

Martin said he will do his best to engross himself into American culture, including taking a crash course in English.

He needed the help with translation from international scout Billy McLaughlin to get through Wednesday's press conference.

"The language is definitely the most difficult, but it's just a matter of wanting to learn," Martin said. "And I really want to learn English. I'll do it. The baseball part of it is just to continue to keep playing the way I always do."

Martin will play mostly center field in Frisco, moving top prospect Engel Beltre, currently serving a suspension, to a corner outfield spot. Both players will be starters in the Frisco outfield.

Martin said he is no hurry to get to the big leagues.

"I want to do everything on the field the right way," Martin said. "I'm not going to rush myself. I'm going to let things come."

The Rangers won't rush Martin either. Center field is in good hands right now with the hot-hitting Julio Borbon, who has an 11-game hitting streak.

"We look at Leonys as a piece of the puzzle," Daniels said. "The big picture is he's a talented guy. You can see from listening to him he's very humble and has a professional temperament about him. He has a real understanding of who he is as a player. He's not going to try and do too much. The flipside of that is we're not going to ask him to do too much. We're not looking for a savior. We're looking at one more guy who, as he comes up through the system, can compete for a job and hopefully give [Rangers manager Ron Washington] a piece to play with. We look at him as a winning player.

"We let him determine that. My hope is the guys up here will make it a non-issue. We'll see how he adjusts to the American League game."

Todd Wills is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.