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Player Review/Preview: Ethan Martin

2013 Key Statistics: 2-5 W-L, 6.08 ERA, 40 IP, 26 BB, 47 SO, 1.700 WHIP, 5.9 BB/9, 10.6 SO/9, 63 ERA+, -0.4 WAR

What Happened In 2013

Potential.  That is the first word that comes to mind when describing Ethan Martin.  Potential, however, doesn’t always translate at the Major League level.  Martin found out the hard way in his rookie campaign.

Martin’s problem throughout his professional career has been harnessing his electric stuff.  He has a mid-90′s fastball that can reach 98 mph and a devastating, over-the-top, 12 to 6 curveball.  When injuries beset the Phillies’ starting rotation last year, Martin was recalled from Triple-A and plugged into the rotation.  He made his Major League debut on August 2 facing the hard-hitting Atlanta Braves.  True-to-form, Martin ran into trouble the second time through the lineup.  He was done-in by a five-run, fifth inning.

Therein lies the problem.  Martin lacks the stamina, control and a quality third pitch to be an effective big-league starter.  Unless your name is Nolan Ryan, it is nearly impossible to survive as a starting pitcher at this level being a two-pitch pitcher.  Maybe in high school.  Big-league hitters will have a feast if they know what’s coming.  Many of Martin’s starts followed the same script as his first - giving up a big inning when running out of gas.  Inconsistent mechanics and subsequent control issues have also kept him from reaching his full potential.

So then came the inevitable.  Once the calendar read ‘September’, manager Ryne Sandberg placed Martin in the bullpen.  That move seemed to agree with the young hurler.  With stamina issues and a limited arsenal, the move was a natural one.  Martin wouldn’t have to worry about pacing himself for a potential six or seven innings or facing the same lineup more than once.  He came out firing upper-90′s fastballs knowing he would only pitch one inning.  Five out of his seven relief outings were scoreless.  There was finally hope that the erstwhile starter had found his niche.

What To Expect In 2014

New Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure will have the pleasure of working with Ethan Martin next spring in Clearwater.  McClure worked with similar talent during his stint as pitching coach of the Kansas City Royals.  McClure’s former pupils were heavy contributors to the best bullpen in baseball last season.  The Phillies hope that he can have the same effect on Martin.

The first order of business is to correct the control issues.  Martin will not be an effective or consistent pitcher until that problem is resolved.  Walking nearly six batters per nine innings is not conducive to any pitcher’s success - at any level.  Professional or amateur.  Starter or reliever.

If Martin is able to corral his pitches and be a consistent strike-throwing machine – watch out!  If he is able to drop his curveball over for strikes on a consistent basis - to go along with a mid-90′s fastball – the hitter is toast.  Should that be the case, it would not be very difficult to envision Martin as a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon.  Martin should improve vastly from his rookie year - especially if he embraces the fact that he truly is a relief pitcher.  If he reaches the point where he is walking a mere two batters per nine innings, then it is not of the question that he can have a breakout season.

Ethan Martin has all of the tools to be an electric, late-inning pitcher for many years.  2014 will go a long way in determining whether he is the closer-in-waiting or just another pitcher passing through – into the annals of obscurity.

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