Double-threat rookie backstops
Martin caught on immediately when he joined the Dodgers, who compiled a 71-43 regular-season record when he started behind the plate."Most of us had in our minds [in March] that because he had limited experience behind the plate, and none higher than Double-A, it would be best to start him at Triple-A this season," Little said. "But the door opened here and he crashed through it. He will be here for a long time." So far, Martin has been the complete package. He hits for average, has power and runs well for a catcher. He also calls a superb game, blocks pitches in the dirt extremely well, and has a strong arm, helping him throw out 26 percent (25-of-96) of the runners attempting to steal. Put a bat in his hand and he'll focus on hitting. Put a mask, chest protector and shin guards on him and he'll give his undivided attention to defense. "One of his best assets," Little said, "is that he never takes his offense behind the plate with him and vice versa. He keeps his offense and defense separated, and he does pretty good at both ... real good." Gaining the confidence of the pitchers can be the most difficult chore for a young catcher. It usually takes more than a year to build that confidence. But the working relationship has been solid from the outset.
"Russ is very mature for his age," veteran right-hander Brett Tomko said. "He takes his craft very seriously and is dedicated to doing his best. He's well-rounded in everything, which is pretty amazing considering how new he is to catching."The thing I like about it is not so much what he does receiving the pitch or blocking the ball," Tomko added, "but it's the process he goes through to get ready for a game. He is well prepared and willing to make adjustments during the game. He's willing to listen to the pitchers, but at the same time not afraid to make suggestions." Tomko said he became a big Martin backer during Spring Training in Vero Beach, Fla. "I threw to him quite a bit in my Spring Training starts and could tell right away that he had a good idea what he was doing behind the plate," Tomko said. "He listens to the pitchers, pays attention to the pitchers and works the game. That's saying something for a 23-year-old in the big leagues for the first time." While those around him praise the dickens out of him, Martin realizes that he's still in the early stages of what could be a fantastic Major League career. "I feel I have come a long way," he said, "but I still have a long way to go."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less