The Rangers announced Friday that they’ve traded outfielder J.P. Martinez to the Braves in exchange for minor league right-hander Tyler Owens. Texas needed to open a spot on its 40-man roster in order to finalize yesterday’s reported signing of David Robertson, and a trade of the 27-year-old Martinez seemingly paves the way for that signing to be made official. Robertson is taking his physical in Texas today.
Martinez made his big league debut with the Rangers in 2023, appearing in 17 games and tallying 44 plate appearances late in the season. He hit .225/.250/.325 with a homer, a double and an unsightly 16 strikeouts (36.4%) during that cup of coffee. His output in 77 Triple-A games (353 plate appearances) was far more encouraging. The lefty-swinging Martinez slashed .298/.418/.543 with 14 long balls, 21 doubles, four triples and a hefty 38 stolen bases in 42 attempts. The small-sample strikeout woes that plagued him in the majors weren’t present in Triple-A; he walked at a 15.6% clip in Round Rock and fanned at a much more manageable 22.9% rate.
It’s worth noting that Martinez was older and more experienced than much of his competition in Triple-A. In addition to five minor league seasons, he played five years in the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s top professional league) and spent two seasons in the independent Canadian-American Association. Be that as it may, it was still an impressive showing and far and away his most productive minor league performance to date since signing with the Rangers organization in March of 2018. Martinez at one point ranked second among Rangers prospects, per Baseball America, but he dropped to 27th the following year (2020) and has been off the radar on major prospect rankings for the organization since.
The Braves’ outfield is full with Jarred Kelenic in left, Michael Harris II in center and reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. in right field. It’s feasible that Martinez could compete with Forrest Wall and non-roster veteran Jordan Luplow for a bench spot to begin the season. Martinez (two) and Wall (three) both have minor league option years remaining, so either could be sent down without needing to first be exposed to waivers. Luplow isn’t on the 40-man roster and would need to earn a job this spring.
Turning to the Rangers’ side of the swap, they’ll add a 23-year-old righty who was the Braves’ 13th-round pick in the 2019 draft. Owens split the 2023 season between High-A and Double-A, working to a combined 3.03 ERA in 65 1/3 innings split between the bullpen and the rotation. He fanned 23.4% of his opponents against a 7.7% walk rate, although both his strikeout and walk rate took a turn for the worse when moving up to the Double-A level from High-A.
Listed at 5’10” and 185 pounds, Owens is undersized but nonetheless elevated his prospect status with his 2023 performance. Baseball America ranked him 22nd among Braves prospects this offseason, touting a plus fastball that reaches 98 mph and befuddles hitters thanks in part to a lower-than-usual release angle. BA’s report also notes that Owens has a slider with strong spin rates which could be a plus pitch if he can locate it more consistently — which he’s struggled to do at this point in his career.
Owens gives the Rangers a potential bullpen arm who could be in the big leagues at some point in 2024 or in 2025, although it should also be noted that all 29 other teams passed on selecting him in December’s Rule 5 Draft despite being eligible.
The Rangers have more outfield depth in the upper minors and on their big league bench than the Braves, who have a stacked bullpen that left Owens with little chance of breaking through in the immediate term (barring multiple injuries on the MLB roster). Martinez is more interesting than the standard player who might be designated for assignment to make room for a free agent signing, and the Braves accordingly sent a relatively near-term bullpen prospect who seemingly has a chance to make it in the big leagues. Both clubs dealt from positions of depth and addressed areas of need; on the whole, it seems like a sensible swap for both parties.
Francys Romero first reported that Martinez had been traded to Atlanta.