Angels prospect Braxton Martinez has not had the most orthodox path to the MLB. Despite four college seasons that saw Martinez amass a slash of .299/.381/.443 across 227 games, Braxton Martinez was not taken in the 2016 MLB draft and found himself without a place to play baseball after that season. What is an athlete to do when they’ve missed the draft after both high school and college? Well, if you’re able, you keep playing. Leaving the game was not an option for Braxton Martinez after being looked over in the 2016 MLB draft, and following that season he found himself playing in the Frontier League, an Independent Baseball League located in the Midwest as a member of the River City Rascals. After 1,112 at-bats with the River City Rascals, Martinez found himself signed by the Los Angeles Angels and is now on a red-hot pace towards the big leagues.
Now in his first professional season with an MLB club, Martinez is championing the same mentality that got him to where he is now. Relax, have fun, and don’t let the stress of the game become more than it needs to be. Funny enough though, it took Martinez facing the possible end of his playing days to put everything into the perspective it needed to be. At the age of 25, he found himself in his last season with the River City Rascals and decided that if it was going to be his last season playing the game, he was going to enjoy it as much as possible. No more obsessing over being signed by an MLB club, all that mattered was the baseball in front of him that needed to be played.
As the great Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” and for Martinez, 100% of his success came from shaping his mentality into that of a future major leaguer.
Braxton Martinez #23
Signed out of Frontier League (Independent Baseball) in 2019
2021 Low-A Stats: .271/.371/.576 in 70 plate appearances
DD: How does it feel coming out of indy ball and now all of a sudden you’re in a professional organization doing as well as you are?
Martinez: My age and experience has been a big help for me. I was pretty fortunate in indy ball to play with some good players who already had experience playing affiliated (MiLB) baseball. When I was younger, I got to pick their brains and learn how they went about things. The league that I played in, the Frontier League, was very competitive. Real good players. By the time I got here with the Angels it felt like another step in the right direction. I had some good experience under my belt. Being older helps too, playing more games mean you get more experience and you see more things. The transition into the organization was great. Everyone was super welcoming and helpful, I never felt like the new guy which is always good when you’re the new guy. All the pieces just fell in the right place. I’m fortunate to have real good people around, a good coaching staff and all that. It all plays to the comfort and being able to go out and perform at a high level. When you feel comfortable, you play better.
DD: It’s interesting seeing your career track go from indy ball to professional minor league baseball. Tell me about how you got into indy ball in the first place.
BM: I finished up college at St.Louis University, I didn’t get drafted and at that point I knew my next option if I wanted to keep playing was to play indy ball. I went through some different tryouts, I tried out for a few teams in the Frontier League and nothing came about. The team I ended up playing for, the River City Rascals, just so happened to have a few guys get injured and a couple guys get picked up by affiliated teams. Lo and behold, they needed a corner infielder so I went there, tried out and made the team. Luckily for me that team was only 15 minutes away from my house. I didn’t even have to leave town. It was just luck, in this game everyone talks about how skilled everybody is, but you have to be really lucky too. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get my foot in the door, and once I got my foot there, I started thinking about how I could perform at a higher level and get picked up.
DD: It seems like after you didn’t get drafted you became more determined to make it.
BM: Absolutely, the goal for me has always been to play for a professional organization and I always felt like I was capable of doing that. I didn’t want to prove to anyone else but myself that I could make it happen. Honestly, in my last season of indyball I went the other direction, I kind of thought it would be the last year I would play and that ended up taking all the stress and pressure off myself. I just told myself “I’m gonna go out there and enjoy the game. Just try to have fun and if this is it this is it.” Sure enough, with that mindset and attitude I had the best season of my life and ended up getting signed [laughs]. I try to carry that same mindset now with the Angels, I feel like that’s what’s helping me be successful, just having fun without putting stress on myself. At the end of the day we’re playing baseball, I’m not in war overseas, I’m playing a game. Yes, it’s a livelihood and a career, but it’s a game and if you don’t treat it like one it’s gonna eat you up.
Frontier League Stats
2019 with River City Rascals: .275/.342/.485 13 HRs 75 RBIs
2019 Home Run Derby Appearance (Frontier League)
In baseball, and in life, the only competition that matters is the one you’re engaged in with yourself, and Braxton Martinez is consistently engaged in bettering himself day in and day out. The young slugger is playing well in his debut season with the Angels organization after hitting a total .247/.381/.411 across four indy ball seasons with the Frontier League (347 games). Experience like that is nothing to scoff at, and although the development track in indy ball may not be as fine-tuned as MiLB programs, the experience is still there. You could argue that one of the most difficult tools to develop for a young prospect is the mind; at the end of the day, no amount of tool adjustments or skill polishing can make up for a fragile mentality. Of course, there are typical developmental adjustments that need to be made here and there, but those really won’t go for much if the prospect doesn’t have the mind to put it all together and keep it there.
In his final season with the River City Rascals, Martinez raked a slash line of .275/.432/.485 with 13 HRs in 209 ABs which landed him a spot in that years Home Run Derby as well as an All-Star bid as a third baseman. Let’s not forget the consistency in his plate approach, which allowed him to net a total of 82 walks with only 74 strikeouts across the 2019 season. His versatility makes him highly valuable as a prospect, considering he can patrol right field while also handling the corner infield spots. Being defensively versatile without a hitting tool is enough to keep one working in this league, but if you carry a solid bat to compliment a well-tuned glove, that will be enough to put anyone at the forefront of an MLB roster.
There are some David Fletcher vibes with Martinez, especially when factoring in his leadership ability. He is the kind of person who utilizes his experience in any way he can, especially if he can lend it to someone in need. To the untrained eye, it may seem that debuting in Low-A at the age of 27 might be a detriment, but this has been both a boon to Martinez himself and his teammates. Not only can Martinez keep himself ahead of the curve with his vast wealth of experience, he can help his teammates find their own shortcuts to success without having to labor through as much trial and error while trying to figure it all out. That, in itself, is enough to want to have the young star around any clubhouse.
St. Louis University
2013-2015: .299/.381/.443 in 869 At Bats (227 Games)
DD: Now that you’re in the place you are now, looking back at where you’ve been, what is in your mind right now?
BM: I’m 27 years old and I think the next closest guy to me in Low A just turned 24. I have way more experience than any of the guys I’m playing with, but I love it. I’m looking at them and seeing them having success or seeing them fail and seeing the emotion coming out of them, I’m realizing that was me at one point; having an 0-4 game the night before and thinking the world is gonna end. But you have to realize that you have a game today, so who cares? Being able to have all the experience I have and help out with the guys I’m playing with now is the coolest part for me. Playing with guys who have never went to college and are talented like I’ve never seen before is awesome. It’s cool to see guys like that at a young age be so good at this game. I’ve always been a late bloomer, I’ve never been a guy who could roll out of bed and get 5 hits that day. It always took me some time. But it’s really cool to play with guys that are so damn talented and so young too. They’ll ask me questions and it’s cool to tell them I’ve played at these different spots through my life, I’ll tell them I graduated high school when they were in the sixth grade [laughs]. That’s the coolest part for me, being able to share experience and help guys not take themselves too seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously, that’s what I always tell them. No matter what, if you go 4-4 and feel like you’re the man, the next day might humble you really quick. If you have a really bad game and go 0-4, the next day you might play like the best player on the planet. You can only learn that through experience.
DD: So you see yourself in a bit of a mentor role with the guys?
BM: Definitely. That’s what I try my best with. I’m not one to fool myself, I know I’m not the most talented player on the field on any given day. I feel like the reason I’m still able to play is from the mental side of things. It’s a hard game and anybody can be good at showcase stuff like hitting BP and fielding ground balls but when it’s bottom of the 9th and you have a crazy situation up how are you gonna handle it? Are you gonna panic or are you gonna do what you know how to do?
DD: You’ve had a lot of experience in the game. You’ve had to think in terms of how to get better and how to get to the next level. Right now, what do you see for yourself in what you can do to get better and go to the next level?
BM: For me it’s just taking in all the information I can. I might be older but you’re never too old to learn something on any day. When you’re playing against guys at a super high talent level all you can do is go out there and play it out, figure it out on the field. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of games under my belt, I’m pretty aware of my strengths and weaknesses so for me it’s about seeing how my strengths match up against who I’m facing and just going out there and competing. As far as a skillset, I try not to focus too much on thinking I need to hit more homers or run better on the base paths or anything like that, I just think about performing, going out there ready to perform and do my job.
DD: All you can do is focus on being consistent with what you’re good at.
BM: Exactly. Some guys will think they need to do more of that or more of this, but all you need to do is what you’re able to do, and you have to do it consistently every day. If you end up having a bad day? Forget about it, go on to the next one.
Braxton Martinez #23
Los Angeles Angels
When it comes to evaluating his value at the MLB level Martinez projects as a super-utility player who can handle both the infield and outfield while carrying an average to above-average bat. Martinez, at best, can probably knock up to 15 homers a season while supplying a consistent contact approach. His mental approach is something that will take him far beyond the limit of his toolset, especially in high leverage situations. Braxton Martinez would probably fit best as a 6-7 hole hitter, depending on how deep the lineup goes, as a potential RBI bat to bring in the middle-of-the-order hitters. He might not have the flashiest toolset, but what he does have is the ability to get the job done and in MLB that’s as good as it gets.
Martinez’s value doesn’t just come from his on-field performance, but with what he does for his team off the field as well. Experience gained is experience meant to be shared, and Martinez is more than happy to share what he can with his younger teammates on and off the field to ensure they stay where they need to be mentally and continue their growth track. There is still a bit of a journey ahead of Martinez when it comes to achieving his MLB goals, but given how far he has already traveled, there is no doubt that Martinez will make quick work of the steps left ahead of him. The game of baseball is only as complicated as you make it, and if you allow yourself to simplify the game then what you need to do to find success will come to you simply.
MLB ETA: Late 2021-2022