SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At 13, Martin Prado saw what Venezuelan youth league teammates Miguel Cabrera and Francisco Rodriguez could do and wondered if he fit the sport. If he would ever fit. Now, Prado finds himself compared to hitters such as Edgar Martinez and Placido Polanco.
Dedication and a singleness of purpose can cover a lot of ground.
“I never thought from that group I would be at this level,” Prado said. “I wasn’t that talented. I couldn’t complain. How was I supposed to play here? But everybody went in a different direction, and I just kept going. I didn’t want to change my path. I didn’t look back. I didn’t turn a different direction. I just kept straight and worked hard.
“I guess it paid off.”
No guesswork required. Prado’s four .300 seasons in the last five years testify to that, and his new Diamondbacks teammates know what they have, too, as Prado prepares to join then-teenage teammate Cabrera to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Prado was the lower-profile return when high-profile right fielder Justin Upton was sent to Atlanta in a seven-player trade in January, and he may not hit as many home runs as Upton this season, although Chase Field should help his average of about 12 a year in the last four.
Then again, Prado will put the ball in play more often, one of the ways this team believes it will have no trouble compensating. He was third in the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio last season at just over one strikeout per walk, and he is second in the league in multi-hit games and third in doubles since 2009.
Willie Bloomquist spent three seasons in Seattle with Edgar Martinez, one of the best pure hitters of his time.
“I don’t want to compare him to somebody great, but he reminds me a lot of Edgar with his approach, his ability to stay inside the baseball and just having a flat-out good idea what he doing up there,” Bloomquist said of Prado.
“He (Prado) controls the situation. It doesn’t matter who is pitching; he dictates what is going on in the batter’s box. He stays inside the baseball and stays up the middle. Edgar was about as good as it gets, so that’s why I tread cautiously about that. But he’s got that kind of approach. He’s not a left-field guy. He can spray it all over the ballpark. He’s only getting better.”
Comparisons to Martinez may be unfair, but it does not mean they cannot shed some light. Martinez put up Hall of Fame-caliber offensive numbers as a late bloomer, not becoming a regular until 1990, when he was 27. His best seasons were from age 32 to 38, when he averaged 42 doubles and 110 RBIs for the Mariners. Prado had more success through his age 28 season, with 168 doubles, 52 home runs, 286 RBIs. That is not to say Prado will become Martinez, but it does add fuel to a discussion.
The scouting report on Prado?
“We couldn’t find a hole,” one D-backs player said.
“There is no scouting report,” another said. “The only scouting report is, don’t throw the same pitch twice.”
Some may rush to judge Prado’s performance in the light of Upton’s, fairly or not, even though the differences in their games can be felt in other, perhaps subtler areas.
“I’m a different player than Justin is,” Prado said. “He is a six-, seven-tool guy. I’m not a seven-tool guy. But there are a lot of things that I can do. I just want to let people know I am not trying to be him. I am just trying to be me.
“I don’t want to change anything on my hitting or my defense. I want to keep doing what I was doing with the Braves and my whole career.”
What worked for Prado with the Braves — and from age 13 on — was work. One example that impressed the D-backs’ front office earlier this spring: Prado had done his early work and finished his round in batting practice, so he picked up his glove and went out to take extra grounders at third base, where he will start this season. And his batting practice is truly practice, that of a seasoned hitter working the field and the strike zone.
“He has a lengthy day,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’s there very early. He’s there very late. Prado is very serious about what he does. He feels an obligation to baseball and to his new team, and he is very serious about proving that. He does it through very serious preparation.
“He’s self-made. He does a lot of good things. We feel confident he will fit in well.”
Prado puts in lengthy days to prepare for lengthy seasons. He prepares as if it were a 200-game season, the better to stay fresh.
“I make sure I get my workout in. Whenever I go home, I go home knowing I’ve tried everything I could to get better that day. Getting to know my body and building my muscle memory,” said Prado, a native of Maracay, Venezuela.
“I know a lot of players assume when the postseason starts it’s a new season and everybody will have a lot of energy. If you prepare for 200, you are going to take those postseason games like nothing. This sports is getting so demanding physically, you have to prepare for taking 600 at-bats, 700 at-bats.
“If you are not prepared, this game is going to eat you.”