‘Cat Watch: Martinez continues to mash

In the second of three installments, ‘Cat Watch takes a look at some former Tri-City players who have reached the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Few expected the former 20th-round draft pick to make a major impact in the pros, but J.D. Martinez just keeps hitting. The outfielder destroyed Greeneville pitching in 19 games and earned a promotion to Tri-City in his rookie season, where he led the New York-Penn League with a .326 batting average. He crushed the Sally League for three months in 2010, hitting .362 with 15 homers, and still hit above .300 as the first member of his draft class in Double A.

The Astros’ 2010 Minor League Player of the Year is back at it again in 2011, hitting .328 and slugging an even .500 in his second time through the Texas League. Martinez leads Corpus Christi with 32 RBIs and has been remarkably patient, drawing 21 walks in 37 games. As a roughly average corner outfielder, Martinez may not contribute much defensive value, but he won’t need to if he continues to hit this well.

Another successful member of the 2009 ValleyCats is also in his second stint at Corpus Christi. Lefty Dallas Keuchel was called up to Double A after 120 strong innings at high-A Lancaster. He went 2-6 with a 4.70 ERA in the Texas League last season but has had much more success in 2011, posting a 3.04 ERA through nine starts. Keuchel’s strikeout rate has dropped significantly – he’s fanned less than one batter every two innings – but he has also been stingy with hits and free passes.

Venezuelan second baseman Jose Altuve had a fantastic start to the season, hitting .408 at Lancaster and earning a promotion to Double A this week. The diminutive Altuve – listed at anywhere from 5’5” to 5’7” – went three-for-four in his first game at Corpus Christi, homering and driving in three runs.

Center fielder T.J. Steele has been plagued by injuries in each of his first two full pro seasons. Twice drafted by the Astros – unsigned out of high school in 2005 but selected again in ’08 – the outfielder is in his second season at Corpus Christi after being sidelined for the second half of 2010. Steele has struggled to replicate the success he had at Lancaster in 2009, posting a .264 on-base percentage over a full season’s worth of at-bats over the past two years.

Koby Clemens moved up the organizational ladder to AAA Oklahoma City this season, six years after making a brief appearance in Troy. The first baseman is hitting a pedestrian .254 with some power, including six homers and 10 doubles.

After an early promotion to the Pacific Coast League in 2010, J.B. Shuck is back with Oklahoma City this year. He has continued his low-power ways, with a .311 slugging percentage – just six ticks lower than his mark from last year – but is batting a respectable .265 while drawing a walk every eight plate appearances.

Kevin Whitaker

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