J.D. targets mental game as next step

Slugger and detailed note-taker looks to follow Miggy's lead

J.D. targets mental game as next step

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The battle for respect is over. J.D. Martinez won that over the last two years, and he has the notes to prove it, from almost every at-bat to every pitcher, every way opponents tried to get him out. It's all in that notebook he has famously carried with him in the dugout.

He's an All-Star player, a Gold Glove finalist and one of the most formidable power hitters in the Majors. He wants more. And the key to getting there, he believes, is the notebook in his head.

"I feel that my mental side of the game could be stronger," Martinez said. "I feel like I'm physically there. I just have to continue to work the mental side."

He then pointed to his head.

"The difference, in my eyes, between superstar players and All-Star players is right here, what goes in there. There's always room for growth in there."

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Gear

Two years ago, Martinez was starting Spring Training with the Astros, who released him in mid-March. He signed with the Tigers a couple of days later and became a midseason revelation, batting .315 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs in 123 games to help power the Tigers to a fourth consecutive division title.

Detroit's reign atop the American League Central ended last season, but Martinez's upward trajectory continued. He batted .282 with 38 homers and 102 RBIs while racking up 15 outfield assists in right.

The next step in his career, he said, is focus. And just as he has learned about hitting and work ethic from teammate, friend, neighbor and workout partner Miguel Cabrera, Martinez believes he can learn the mental side.

"You watch Miggy, the way he handles his business," Martinez said. "He looks like he's joking and he's playing around all the time, but the moment he gets in that box he's a different animal. That's just his mental toughness. That's one thing I'm trying to learn every day out here.

"It's easy to sit there in the dugout when the game's going on and talk, chitchat about this and that. But I think paying attention, watching the pitcher, watching the game develop, putting yourself in situations you're not even in yet, anticipating the game, stuff like that, I think that really helps you take that extra step. Learning how to slow the game down is the biggest thing."

Try as he might, Martinez will never match Cabrera's swing. What he wants to do is match Cabrera's anticipation, knowing how a pitcher will try to retire him before he steps in the box. Martinez's notes tell him how he has been attacked in the past.

"I think all players, as they become more experienced, will improve their mental side of the game," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Part of it's just experience. You learn how to control the emotions a little bit more. You learn how to control the adrenaline a little more, mainly because you've been in similar situations before. You know what to expect."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.