Local switch-hitter an 'eye-opener' Complex player draws attention at scout day

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ST. THOMAS - Professional baseball scouts do not make a habit of readily acknowledging who catches their attention, as two Seattle Mariners scouts explained at Lionel Roberts Stadium on Tuesday.

The strategy makes sense. No team wants another club snagging what could be an unknown commodity.

St. Croix Educational Complex junior Jose Martinez Jr. doesn't exactly fall into that category - at least not with the professional teams that sent scouts to the sixth annual V.I. Future Stars Scout Day. Eight Major League Baseball teams and two colleges had representatives in attendance to see 32 players (18 from the territory), according to Future Starts President Darren Canton.

All 19 scouts stopped texting and set aside their cell phones when Martinez, a speedy, switch-hitting infielder, came to the plate.

"We've been fortunate to see him the last three years at events like this," Seattle scout Noel Sevilla said. "As a freshman, a sophomore, he's been at all these events, so we kind of got a good gauge of his ability.

"It's a young player. Obviously, a lot of life, electric, wants to be out there and you want to see that in a player."

Sevilla, who scouts Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, was one of three members of the Mariners organization in attendance, including the team's scouting director Tom McNamara. The group is using the week to reconnect in preparation for the upcoming season. Today and Thursday, they will watch a showcase in Puerto Rico. The warm weather is a nice perk, but they also expect to see some top young talent in a region where baseball skills can be honed year-round in the accommodating climate.

"In this business, if you have an opportunity to go places to see players, you never know what you can find," McNamara said. "We both have been doing this for awhile. There's a lot of trips you go on where you don't see much, but you gotta keep going to the ballpark."

McNamara played in the minor leagues for the Mariners and is in his fifth year leading the never-ending search for top prospects. Tuesday was McNamara's first trip to the territory, but Sevilla is familiar with the islands. Sevilla, now in his third year with the club, signed Frederiksted native Richard White in 2011. A year earlier, the Mariners signed St. Thomas native Jabari Blash.

"They're both doing fine," McNamara said. Blash "had a nice year at Clinton last year. He's an upside guy and Richard White's got a good arm and he's got - we call it ceiling. We're happy with both of them."

Blash was second on the Class A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings with 15 home runs in 2012. The 6-foot-5 right fielder finished with 50 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. White recorded a 2-1 record in 2012, his first season with the Mariners of the Arizona Rookie League. The right-hander pitched in 16 games and had a 5.40 ERA. Both players took part in previous scout days in the V.I.

Will Martinez be the next player from the territory to sign with a professional team? It is too early to tell, but the Mariners scouts described him as a "follow guy" or someone to likely be added to a list of players they would like to see again when he is a senior in high school.

"My goal is to just get as much look-ats as possible," Martinez said. "I'm going into my 12th-grade year now and I'm trying to make it big."

Martinez, who has been a member of the V.I. Future Stars organization since he was 13, made solid contact from both sides of the plate and displayed noteworthy speed on the basepaths Tuesday.

The V.I. Future Stars organization holds showcase events to help the top talent in the territory, Tortola and other locations play in front of college and professional scouts. Canton said Martinez and St. Thomas native Malik Mitchell drew the most interest Tuesday. Mitchell graduated high school in Newport News, Va., last year.

"The players are always athletic, so it's time to really mold that and develop that athleticism at a younger age and really that's our main focus," Canton said.

Charlotte Amalie High School junior Jed Joseph had one of the day's highlights when he hit a home run against full-speed pitching.

"I was just having as much fun as I can," Joseph said, "Just trying to do what I know I can do, staying within myself and that's basically it."

Joseph and Martinez said they would both like to attend college, but would not hesitate to sign minor league contracts.

- Contact Tim Chapman at 714-9102 or tchapman@dailynews.vi.

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