Prospect Smackdown: Fernando Martinez vs. Jose Tabata
Background and Intangibles
Martinez was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mets in 2005, for $1.4 million. An excellent athlete, he was considered the equivalent of an additional first round pick. He is considered emotionally mature for his age, and the Mets have had no qualms about pushing him quickly due to this maturity.
Tabata was signed out of Venezuela by the Yankees in 2005, for $550,000. He didn't receive quite as much pre-signing attention as Martinez, but like Martinez hasn't looked out of place in pro ball despite his age. Some scouts say that Tabata can get lazy, while others dispute this and say he thrives in pressure situations and just needs to grow up a bit more. The Yanks have handled him more cautiously that the Mets have handled Martinez, but this seems more of an organizational philosophy thing than any problem with Tabata.
Both players seem to have done well with their cultural adjustments. Martinez had a bit more buzz when he signed, but Tabata has caught up with him. Martinez may have a slightly better work ethic, but that's hard to quantify, and given their respective ages they are both remarkably mature. Overall Martinez may have a slight edge here but it's not a huge one.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Martinez was born October 10, 1988. A lefty hitter and a righty thrower, he is listed at 6-0, 185. He has plus bat speed and raw power, but his strike zone judgment is relatively mediocre at this point, and he'll struggle against breaking balls on occasion. All of his tools rate as average or better. His speed is a tick above average, but he'll probably lose that as he fills out his body. His arm is strong enough for right field, and he should be a fine defender with more experience.
Martinez missed much of last year with a bruised hand and a sprained knee.
Tabata was born August 12, 1988. A righty hitter and thrower, he is still listed at 5-11, 160, although his lower body is starting to fill out and that weight data is probably obsolete. He has outstanding bat speed, and shows ability against both fastballs and breaking balls. His strike zone judgment is very good. All of his tools rate as average or better. Although he runs well now, some people expect him to lose speed as he gets older, although he may keep it longer than Martinez. He has the arm for right field, and with more experience his defense will play there without problem. His season ended early because of an injured thumb.
Both players have a ton of bat speed and enormous offensive potential. Martinez has more present power, but Tabata has superior strike zone judgment. Tabata has a bit more running speed at this point, though neither will be a burner in the long run. Both have right field arms. Both of them had problems with nagging injuries last year. Overall this looks even to me, Martinez's edge in current power being balanced by Tabata's better plate discipline and better current speed.
Performance and Polish
Martinez is a career .279/.336/.457 hitter in 315 at-bats, including a .333/.389/.505 mark last year in 45 games in the Sally League. His numbers would look better where it not for a 30-game, .193/.254/.387 stint in the Florida State League. But he really had no business in the Florida State League at age 17, so it is hard to hold this against him. Although rather raw in some phases of the game, the fact is that he already has enough polish to hold his own against players several years older than he is: the lack of polish is relative, and relative to his age group, he is very polished indeed. The fact that he didn't look out of place in the Arizona Fall League is quite intriguing.
Tabata is a career .300/.379/.419 hitter in 475 at-bats, including .298/.377/.420 last year in the Sally League. Like Martinez, Tabata is raw compared to many minor league players, but is very polished for his age. It would have been very interesting to see what he could have done late in the year in the Florida State League or the Arizona Fall League, but health concerns prevented it.
Both players are unusually advanced for their age but still have some work to do. Tabata has shown better strike zone judgment, but Martinez has beaten him handily in the SLG department. Tabata also had a strong home/road split in the Sally League (.921 OPS at home, .713 on the road) while Martinez was more even (.849/.937). I think we have to give Martinez a slight edge here.
Martinez projects as a 20-homer hitter at a minimum; he should be a 30+ homer guy if he develops along anything approaching a normal curve. His strike zone judgment and batting average may be erratic, especially if the Mets push him too quickly. He projects as an All-Star right fielder at the major league level in my opinion.
Tabata doesn't project as much home run power as Martinez, being more of a 20-25 homer guy at his peak according to many scouts. However, his batting average and OBP could be more consistent than Martinez's, and Tabata should keep his running speed longer. He projects as an All-Star right fielder.
Both project as stars, although the exact "flavor" of this stardom could vary. Take your pick depending on what you like: I think Martinez could have more impact power, but Tabata could be a more balanced contributor. No clear advantage.
I think Martinez has a slight edge in background/intangibles and in current performance, while they rate even in projection and tools. So overall I think Martinez comes out just a little bit ahead. But it's close, very close, so close that I ranked Martinez at #17 and Tabata at #18 on my Top 50 hitting prospects list.