Mariners' Martin says he won't be distracted by legal action
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Until a few days ago, most of the interest surrounding new Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin centered on whether he would be able to bounce back from a frustrating 2015 season.
Then on Friday, his former agent was arrested on federal charges involving illegal smuggling of baseball players from Cuba to the United States. A grand jury indicted Bart Hernandez on two conspiracy counts that revolve around Martin, who defected from the communist country in 2010.
Martin, who reported Sunday to the Mariners' spring camp, said he will not be distracted by the legal proceedings.
''All I got on my mind is, `Play baseball,''' Martin said. ''That's all I'm about, `Play baseball.' I've got no comment on (Hernandez).''
A day earlier, Martin issued a broader statement on the situation, via his new representation, MDR Sports.
''I am obviously aware that Bart Hernandez was arrested yesterday by the United States government,'' the statement read. ''The decision to arrest him was made by the government, not by me, and any questions about why he was arrested should be directed to the prosecutor in Florida.''
''Out of respect for the judicial process, I will have no further comment on this matter, and I ask that the media respect my privacy and the privacy of my family. My total focus is on doing everything in my ability to contribute to a successful season for the Seattle Mariners,'' the statement read.
That's where first-year Seattle manager Scott Servais' interest in Martin lies, too.
Martin, acquired from Texas in an offseason trade, has been one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball since becoming a full-time player in 2013. Martin, 27, will likely begin the season as Seattle's starting center fielder.
''Going for athleticism and defense, especially in the outfield, he rates at the top of the list of all the defensive metrics,'' Servais said. ''And he can really throw and if you look at how our pitching is lined up, we've got some fly-ball pitchers, which play to our advantages at Safeco field. He'll be a key piece for us.''
Martin had been an important player for the Rangers and he entered last season expected to build off a 2014 campaign that saw him start 140 games in center field, hit .274 and steal 31 bases.
But he struggled. By the end of June he was batting .223 and he lost his starting job at the All-Star break. After being demoted to Triple-A Round Rock, he broke his wrist, missing most of August and September.
''I don't want to make any excuses,'' he said. ''It was a bad year.''
Servais agrees, but he knows the poor season could be Seattle's gain.
''He did not have a good year last year, had an injury issue and he kind of lost his spot,'' he said. ''It happens in this game. It's why we were able to acquire him. If not, we wouldn't have been able to get him.''
Martin said he was surprised when he learned in November that he'd been traded to Seattle with pitcher Anthony Bass, who was later released, for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones and utility player Patrick Kivlehan because players typically aren't traded to other teams in the same division.
But he was happy to have landed in Seattle, where he'll roam Safeco Field's spacious outfield.
''I love it, man, I love the Safeco field,'' he said. ''Got to say, Thank you, God,' it's going to be my home ballpark.''
Martin said his wrist is ''feeling 100 percent'' and he doesn't feel like he has anything to prove after a disappointing season.
Instead, he's looking forward to a new start that began a few months ago when he played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
''I went to play in winter league a little bit to reset my mind,'' he said.
Martin played well, Servais said, doing a good job getting on base and hitting left-handed pitching. After Seattle traded for Martin, the manager told him that he wants Martin, who has a career .305 on-base-percentage, to reach base more.
''It's not about the batting average, I explained to him,'' Servais said. ''Where you're going to fit into our lineup, it's get on base, just get on base. I don't care how you do it. If it's bunting, if it's getting hit by a pitch, if it's walking, get more hits. I don't care. Just get on base so the guys in the middle of our lineup have got somebody out there when they come up.''
Martin also worked with a hitting instructor during the offseason in Miami. He altered his approach at the plate - his stance remains the same, he said - and he was pleased with the results when he faced pitchers in winter ball. He's looking forward to returning to form this season with the Mariners.
''I'm excited for the new season and I know it's going to be a great year for us,'' Martin said. ''It's a great opportunity for me.''