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Motown Miracle: J.D. Martinez reinvents himself

Two Martinez lunch
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Non-brothers in arms. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

I've been fooled by J.D. Martinez before, back in 2011 and 2012. And it looks like I'm going to be fooled by him again. He's currently owned in 17 percent of Yahoo leagues, and I've done my part, adding shares here and there.

Let's start with what Martinez is doing this year, in the Midwest: mashing. He's off to a .317/.348/.615 start with the Tigers, with seven homers over 104 at-bats. He's become a regular of late, starting the last nine games (a 17-for-38 run marks territory). He's homered in three straight games, and four of the last five.

Martinez didn't open the year in Detroit, of course. He rode the bus to Triple-A Toledo in April, crushing 10 homers in 17 games. It was a hack-first approach all the way (17 strikeouts, three walks), but the Tigers couldn't ignore the explosion. Martinez joined the big-league club in late April; he's been mostly a reserve until recently.

Why is Martinez in the Detroit organization to begin with? The Houston Astros had no spot for him. Although Martinez did nothing but crush throughout the minors (he's a career .332/.394/.548 man in the bush leagues), the Astros were justly underwhelmed with what Martinez did at the big-league level from 2011-2013. Houston gave Martinez 286 games to show his stuff, and this was the mediocre return: .251/.300/.387, with the occasional homer (24 in 899 at-bats).

While Martinez's plate discipline doesn't look any different this year - meet the new J.D., same as the old J.D. - he has made significant changes in his hitting mechanics. Perhaps they provide a reasonable explanation for the 17 combined homers he's hit this year. No one is as good as the player we've seen over the last week and a half, but maybe Martinez, at age 26, is ready to be a legitimate contributor in the big leagues. He's been batting fifth in the Detroit lineup most of the month, a friendly spot for run production.

He'll have to do it with his bat, of course - he's a minus player on the bases and in the field. And when everyone is healthy in the Detroit outfield (Torii Hunter is a little dinged right now), things become crowded. Austin Jackson's defense marks a spot in center field (I know, he's been a flop at the plate), and Hunter is going to play. The DH spot justly belongs to the amazing Victor Martinez. The Tigers will probably let J.D. share left field with Rajai Davis, in some fashion. It's not a straight platoon, as both players bat right-handed.

Taken literally, "ride him while he's hot" is silly fantasy advice - what hot player wouldn't you play? But what it really means is this: keep the leash short. Martinez could easily slide into fantasy irrelevance before Independence Day, but maybe this is a case of a mid-20s player starting to come into his own. Improvement happens, sometimes. Development happens, sometimes.

I've kicked the tires, most notably on the team I care most about. Do what you need to do. 

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