Welcome to the WFNY 2019 Cleveland Indians preview series. Since we are an unconventional group, we are here to give you an unconventional preview. Some might be breakdowns of positions. Some might be position group battles. Some might be in depth character studies of the intricacies of the art of bunting…just kidding we hate bunts and you should too. We will be here every day for the next two weeks leading up to Opening Day, looking at some of the players and positions of this world-class Indians team.
Links to previous previews: Welcome home Carlos
Dichotomy of opinion has become the cultural norm. Whether it is the rolling direction of toilet paper, the allowable toppings on pizza, or what constitutes the official designation of a sandwich, people become willingly embroiled in the arguments after quickly choosing sides. The merits of the debates matter less than the depths of which the heels have been dug. Thus, Leonys Martin’s 2019 season will be a refreshing change as folk from all perspectives shall cheer for his success.
Fans with a sentimental bent will appreciate the Martin back-story. Barely a week after being traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2018, Martin fell ill before doctors realized it was a bacterial infection that saw him fighting for his life. Players wore ‘LM13’ on their caps and supported their new teammate despite the focus not being on returning to baseball activities. Thankfully, the story shifted towards one of rehabilitation and regaining his career as Martin himself tells here in this mini-documentary for Watch Momentum.1
A few short months ago, it wasn't just his baseball career in danger, it was his life. After looking death in the eyes @leonys27martin has a message he wants to share with his family, fans, and teammates. #WatchMomentum https://t.co/zzgCDZqENZ pic.twitter.com/hGJJAS3Wyk
— Momentum (@Watch_Momentum) February 13, 2019
Fans with an old school view of baseball will surely appreciate Martin. He plays above average defense at a premium position. Baserunning out of the speedster is a bonus; including his ability to steal bases. The 2018 season saw Martin learn to lay off more pitches out of the zone and swing at more strikes. The result was getting the bat to the ball more often than he had since his younger days with the Texas Rangers wherein he could use his speed to put pressure on the defense.
Fans with a sabermetric preference will note Martin’s 2018 gains were attributed to swing adjustments catered to adhering to the Elevation Revelation. Exit velocity and launch angle gains turned into a career-high (2x) in barrels. His exit velocity was up biggest on fly balls and line drives meaning the gains were focused on the most important batted balls. His xwOBA (expected wOBA) suggests his actual 2018 slash line under-shot what he should have had– and those were all at or near career highs. Martin’s peripheral profile looked solid as his walk rate increased and strikeout rate decreased; alongside a big jump in power. His home runs were nearly all to his pull side, but doubles were evenly distributed in the outfield. One season is somewhat of a small sample size as pitchers might adjust. But, if 2018 is the new Martin at the plate, then the Indians have a Top 5 American League center fielder.
Whether it be Kenny Lofton or Grady Sizemore, or even Michael Bourn before his hamstrings betrayed him, most great teams the Cleveland Indians have put forth have had a fantastic player manning center field. Perhaps if they did in 2016, World Series Game 6 would have gone differently.2
Regardless, all should cheer for Martin to take the torch as the next great Tribe center fielder. Martin has stated he will appreciate every moment of 2019, and his smile is contagious.
The smile hasn't left Leonys Martin's face since he got here on Friday. pic.twitter.com/wylPbk7XnJ
— Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) February 22, 2019