Triple-A batting champ Martinez took one week off all year in bid to follow late father
By Jesse Sanchez
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals outfielder Jose Martinez, better known as "Cafecito" in Venezuela, proudly answers to his childhood nickname every time he hears it.
The moniker is a tribute to Martinez's late father, former Major Leaguer Carlos "Café" Martinez, and it's one of the most recognizable handles in the Venezuela. It also has added significance this month.
Martinez, who signed with the Royals as a Minor League free agent before last season after almost a decade in the White Sox and Braves' organizations, is still yearning for his first taste of the Major Leagues.
In English, Jose Martinez's nickname means "a little cup of coffee."
"I hope it's this year, but first I need to make a good impression and show that I am here to work," Martinez, 27, said in Spanish. "I'm going to take advantage of any opportunities they give me."
Martinez is competing for a backup outfield job, and he could be in line for some big league at-bats because of the recent injury to right fielder Jarrod Dyson, if he makes the 25-man roster.
"When I signed with the Royals, I made up my mind that I'm going to make it to the big leagues for my father, for my family, for my country and for everyone that has supported me along the way," Martinez said. "I hope I can make it as soon as I can, but all I can control is how hard I work and the effort I put in."
Martinez had a breakout season in 2015, winning the Pacific Coast League batting title with a .384 mark for Triple-A Omaha. Not content to take the winter off, Martinez went on to sport a .317 batting average in Winter Ball in Venezuela through January.
Last month, Martinez hit .480 with a double, two triples, one home run, seven runs scored and seven RBIs during the Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
Martinez credits an improved mental approach, along with Venezuelan baseball star Alex Cabrera, Omaha hitting coach Tommy Gregg and uncle Romulo Martinez, a former professional ball player in Venezuela and current hitting coach for the Toros de Tijuana in Mexico, for his success at the plate.
"I'm just trying to continue doing what I have done all year," Martinez said. "I've rested a total of a week away from the baseball field, but even then I was at the gym and maintaining my routine. I don't have the luxury of taking time off. I feel great and want to keep it going."
Where Martinez fits in Kansas City's plans is to be determined.
Dyson is out of action for at least six weeks with a strained right oblique.
"[Martinez] had a great year last year in Triple-A and I'm anxious to see him play," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's done very well so far. He's swung the bat very well and he plays defense out there, very solid in right field, and we've played him some at first. He's done a nice job there. I've been impressed so far."
Where "Cafecito" comes from is much more defined. Carlos "Café" Martinez was a star in Venezuela and played parts of seven seasons with the White Sox, Indians and Angels starting in 1988. The outfielder's younger brother, Teodoro, 23, signed with Rangers as a teenager in 2009 and spent seven seasons with the organization. He played in the Minors with the Yankees last season and remains unsigned.
Carlos Martinez, the only member of the family to play in the Major Leagues, died in 2006 from stomach cancer. His death sent shock waves through the baseball community in Venezuela.
"It's been 10 years and it's still very difficult," Martinez said. "My father meant everything to us. But his passing has also motivated me to make it to the big leagues and to work hard. That's the way life is, you just have to keep on pushing through and fighting. I know my father would not want me to give up, so I'm going to keep going until I make it."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.