JUPITER, Fla. – After signing off on a $1.5 million signing bonus for 19-year-old Dominican pitcher Carlos Martinez last summer, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak got his first look at the young flamethrower on Saturday.
Martinez was as good as advertised during a speedy 30-pitch bullpen session on a back mound at Roger Dean Stadium on the first day of the club's prospect camp.
"Long awaited," Mozeliak said after seeing Martinez in person for the first time. "Obviously you can tell he has a big time arm. …These kinds of days are always great. Almost like the anticipation before Christmas or a birthday.
"It was so unique in terms of the process of getting him into the country and now getting him here but certainly last year when he was scouted by Matt Slater and Moises (Rodriguez, director of International Relations) and that group, they were very bullish on him and you can see why."
In 12 starts with the Cardinals' Dominican Summer League team last summer, Martinez went 3-2 with a 0.76 ERA. He had 78 strikeouts to just 14 walks in 59 innings and held opponents to a .144 average against.
Martinez originally signed with the Boston Red Sox three years ago but had his contract voided and was suspended for a year over an identity issue. Martinez' mom passed away shortly after he was born and he never received the proper paperwork to document his birth. He moved in with aunt and uncle, who eventually tried to pass as his parents when they registered him when he was eight years old.
That's why Martinez was known as Carlos Matias until late last year. Matias was the name of the aunt and uncle that took care of him growing up.
"They represented themselves as his parents," Rodriguez said. "The reason why they did that is because the circumstances he was born into and not because at the age of eight… nobody was thinking of him as a baseball player then.
"They went and declared him as their son, and that posed a problem going forward with the paperwork because it wasn't his mom that did it. There was never any intent to deceive with the paper work."
The issue was finally cleared up late last year and Carlos Matias became Carlos Martinez, the last name held by his mother before she passed away. Martinez came to the Cardinals complex in December to complete some paperwork and get a physical, but Saturday marked his first throws on American soil.
"He's a good kid," Rodriguez said. "He lived in a very small home. It was a tiny home that he shared with several family members. It was almost like a wood shack. Very modest upbringing. Very respectful kid. His ability to learn is one of the main reasons we decided to invest in him."
The right-hander has a fastball that sits consistently in the mid-90's and has touched as high as 98-99 miles per hour. He also has a slider, curveball and changeup that are seen as potential ‘plus' pitches as well.
Most noticeable Saturday was Martinez' free and easy delivery, throwing surprisingly hard for the little amount of effort he appeared to use.
"You can tell he was a little amped up, especially on the changeups," said Cardinals minor league coordinator John Vuch. "That was the first time I saw him live. He's exciting."
Said Rodriguez: "I think he was a little anxious but as far as how the ball was coming out, as easy as it was coming out, that's him. There isn't a lot of effort to it."
Martinez could begin the season at Low-A Quad Cities but the Cardinals have almost six weeks to observe their new right-hander before having to make that decision.
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