Questions about Leonys Martin's swing

ROUND ROCK, Texas -- The Rangers raised a lot of eyebrows in the industry this spring when they gave free agent Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin $15 million, a number that either puts him on par with No. 1 overall draft picks or just shows you once again how badly the draft shafts premium American amateur players. Martin, who is hitting .333/.405/.364 in 41 at-bats since being promoted to Triple-A Round Rock, has three above-average tools but there are legitimate questions about the bat.

Texas has apparently already tweaked Martin's swing by bringing his hands lower in his setup, which works to shorten a hitter's path to the ball. That said, the 23-year-old can still get pretty long -- he wraps the bat slightly around the back of his head and loads his hands fairly deep. To compensate for this, he starts his hands early and ended up out in front too often last night. In BP, he hits only with his hands, with little hip rotation, no stride, and a stiff front side that makes him look like one of Michelangelo's Prisoner statues. In the game, however, he does stride and his whole front side goes soft, pulling his right shoulder back and his bat upwards in the process; with that kind of swing he's going to tap a lot of groundballs to the left side. He also had one at bat against a left-handed pitcher on Wednesday night, flinching noticeably at the first two pitches before dropping a perfect squeeze down the third base line to get a run home.

Martin's an above-average runner, but not a burner, and shows easy range in center field with a plus arm. He did have one misadventure on a flyball hit over his head that became a double rather than an out. I'd imagine he'll be worth five runs or more a year on defense when he gets more reps under his belt, which means it won't take a lot of bat for him to be a solid-average regular. If he does hit, he'll be a star, but there's a lot of work left to do on his swing before that becomes a realistic possibility.


• Right-hander Neil Ramirez, who I ranked as the Rangers' No. 7 prospect entering the season, had been the scheduled starter for this game but was scratched earlier this week after he left his last start with shoulder soreness. The Rangers don't believe there's any structural damage and he might miss one more start.

• Chris Davis looked like a big leaguer on a rehab assignment and handled third base well enough that he could probably handle it in the majors now. Given how poor that position is in the majors, not to mention Davis' plus raw power and overall athleticism, he should be a popular target in trades this month or this winter. He'll probably never sniff a .350 OBP, but he'd probably run into 30 bombs if someone gave him 500 at-bats to prove himself.

• The Express played New Orleans, the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate, which had a few semi-prospects amongst the minor league lifers. Matt Dominguez, Florida's 2007 first-round pick, still hasn't developed physically -- he could pass for 18 -- or in terms of his approach. There's virtually no hip rotation and he doesn't recognize off-speed pitches well at all. You can alter a guy's swing, but if he can't pick up a changeup he's never going to hit for any kind of average in the big leagues.

• Osvaldo Martinez has had a very disappointing year after performing well in Double-A in 2010 and appearing in the Futures Game. The ball still comes off his bat really well and he doesn't seem to have lost bat speed. Middle infielders with any kind of bat are pretty valuable, and since Martinez is just 22, I wouldn't give up on him just yet. Nor should the Marlins.

• Right-hander Tom Koehler, an 18th-round pick out of Stony Brook, started for New Orleans and showed potential to be a fifth starter in the big leagues. He was sitting 91-92, touching 94, flashing an above-average curveball and mixing in a cutter that was very tough against left-handed hitters. He's had a down year in 2011 after a very strong 2010 in Double-A, and it's easy to see how he succeeded at the lower level due to the quality of those three pitches. He should at least get a few opportunities to prove that last year's results weren't a fluke.