Is Ethan Martin starting to turn the corner?

There has been no harsher critic of Ethan Martin than myself.

While I once rated him as the Dodgers second-best prospect, he has since fallen flat on his face and my rankings have reflected that. This season, however, he’s showing signs of putting it all together for the first time as a professional baseball player.

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Martin was extremely raw coming out of high school as a 2008 first-round draft pick, and it showed in his first couple seasons. Last season, Martin began at Rancho Cucamonga and struggled … a lot: 7.36 ERA, 5.16 FIP, 1.85 WHIP, 10. 6 H/9, and 6.1 BB/9. This came one season after struggling with Inland Empire, the Dodgers former California League affiliate.

Curiously, the Dodgers promoted him to Chattanooga to pitch for the Lookouts midway through 2011. He appeared in 21 games, but just three as a starter. It looked as if the team had finally given up on any thoughts of using him as a starter and accepted that Martin was destined for bullpen duty. However, in an about-face, the Dodgers continued with him as a starter in 2012, and so far it’s paying dividends: 3.58 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, 5.5 H/9, and 6.2 BB/9.

The walks are still a concern, but I’m assuming that’s always going to be a “thing” with Martin. One really encouraging statistic is that, in 27 2/3 innings, he’s yet to allow a home run (knock on wood). Coming into the season, his HR/9 for his career was 0.7, so it’s not like he was giving up a bunch of long-balls, but against advanced competition, that’s pretty impressive. Another thing to keep an eye on is the decrease in strikeouts. He had a 9.6 K/9 coming into the season, but this season he’s sitting at 7.5 K/9. At this point though, I’ll gladly take a decrease in strikeouts in exchange for a better overall pitcher.

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Stuff has never been a question for Martin. He boasts a legitimate mid-90s fastball, a power curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch, a low-to-mid-80s slider, and a mid-80s changeup. Yet, he’s always been inconsistent and lacking refinement, so that’s what needed to change.

This quote, via Tyler Brown of Nooga.com, from Lookouts manager Carlos Subero gives a glimpse into what has powered Martin’s turnaround so far.

“When he gives up a walk and three runs in the first inning, knowing the Ethan from the past, he did not let that snowball. In the second inning he was still a little shaken with a couple of walks, but he was able to put up five zeros in a row. For me, that’s the highlight of development tonight.”

That’s really telling. It seems Martin is learning to pitch, which is the best thing for him right now, because the criticism from scouts has always been that he’s just a thrower.

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As a guy who’s been really difficult on him in the past (from #2 to #14 to #37), it’s nice to see him having some early-season success. Now, if he can put up solid numbers over the course of a season, the Dodgers either have another studly right-handed pitching prospect or a valuable trade chip (bet on the former, if either). So perhaps all hope is not lost for Martin, though we’ll have to monitor him for a few months to truly get a read on his progress.

Now if he could just get Ralston Cash (seriously, check his feed — it’s nuts), his cousin and Dodgers 2010 second-round pick, to stop tweeting weird stuff and get him back on the mound, we’d be in business.

About Dustin Nosler