By: Rich Arleo 

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Carlos Martinez, Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2014 season (Majors): 57 G, 7 GS, 1 SV, 89.1 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.410 WHIP, 2 W, 84 SO, 36 BB

Teams don’t often trade a young pitcher like Shelby Miller, but when you’re a team like the Cardinals with a surplus of young pitching ready to break out seemingly every year, it may be a bit more common. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak basically said after trading Miller that one reason he did so was to make room in the rotation for Martinez, a top prospect who pitched out of the bullpen in 2014.

After those comments, one could assume that Martinez was a shoo-in for the final rotation spot, but with fewer than two weeks left this spring, the race is still up for grabs. Now, part of that has to do with Martinez, who didn’t exactly blow the doors off in his first four appearances (11 IP, 8 H, 6ER, 3 BB, 10 SO). While the results haven’t been great, the strikeouts have been there and the majority of his appearances have been positive.

What’s really getting in the way of Martinez is his competition. Fellow 23-year-old Marco Gonzales has been very sharp, allowing just one earned run in his first three starts spanning 10 2/3 innings. While Gonzales is now one of the Cardinals’ better prospects, he doesn’t have as much big league or Minor League experience, so you could still consider Martinez the favorite there. The main road block for Martinez right now is the somewhat surprisingly quick resurgence of the oft-injured, oft-effective Jaime Garcia. Garcia was 26-15 with a 3.17 ERA in 60 starts for the Cardinals in 2010-11, but has battled various shoulder injuries and is recovering from July surgery to fix his thoracic outlet syndrome. After striking out 12 in his last two spring starts (8 IP), he and his experienced arm may have vaulted into the lead.

A lot will be decided in the final spring games before the regular season, but no matter where Martinez ends up out of the gate, odds are he’ll be an important starter for the Cardinals at some point this year. In five Minor League seasons, Martinez has a 2.61 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 347 strikeouts, a 9.2 K/9 and 2.92 K/BB. It would appear Martinez has very little left to prove in the Minors, but it’s still possible he begins the season there. The right-hander was pretty effective out of the bullpen last year, but still profiles as a starter and pitched relatively well in seven starts for the Cards last year.

Martinez was much more effective against right-handed hitters (64:14 K:BB, .244 BAA) than he was vs. left-handers (19:22 K:BB, .297), so he’ll need to improve against southpaws in the bigs. An answer to that could be an increased use of his changeup, which he used often in the Minors but only used about three percent of the time in the bigs last year, according to Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x data. He’s been working it in a bit more this spring, and when mixed in with his fastball that can reach 97 mph and plus-curveball, Martinez should be able to keep big leaguers off balance.

Given the injury history of Garcia, and the issues Cardinals pitchers had staying healthy last season, Martinez shouldn’t have to wait long to start this year even if he doesn’t win the job outright. It looks as though the club wants to stick with him as a starter, so don’t look for him to be pushed back to the big league ‘pen anytime soon.

The Cardinals seem to churn out a new young pitcher every year, and this should be the year Martinez makes his mark.

Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo 

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