When I spoke with 2012 Hickory Crawdads hitting coach Josue Perez about the opening of that season, I asked him the question about who would be the run-producers. For that season, Perez mentioned the college guys, Trever Adams, Jeremy Williams and a physically imposing Jordan Akins. He then mentioned the young guns Jorge Alfaro and Rougned Odor, both of who were 18 then. Perez then added, “(Drew) Robinson is a sleeper.”
One could argue that Robinson’s minor-league career has been in sleeper mode and not very sexy at all. He’s moved around the diamond, struck out a lot, hit for a mediocre average. But Robinson has worked and persevered and survived the climb up the organizational chain and can forever call himself a major leaguer.
My memory of Robinson at Hickory was a kid that was okay at the plate (123 Ks in 507 PAs) and in the field (28 errors in 103 games at 3B). Yet, there are kids who have the work ethic to learn the game and to make themselves into an indispensable piece of an organization. Robinson did that and he is now a big leaguer as he will start the 2017 season with the Texas Rangers.
There were a couple of things that stood out for me about Robinson in 2012: the ability to be patient and to come up big in pressure situations. He didn’t start out that way, and early on it looked like he might never get there.
One must remember that he was 19 on opening day 2012 and most kids take time to figure it out at the pro level. It can certainly be frustrating to not have the same results a player at high school.
After posting a .163/ .266/ .265 slash over 45 games at short-season Spokane and starting at .189/ .283/ .340 after 15 games at Hickory, Robinson admitted at the time that he was still learning to slow the game down and make the necessary adjustments.
:It’s been a rough start,” said Robinson during a late-April interview. “I went through this a little bit last year. Just having a good mindset will help with a lot of things. I was down a lot last year and I never really got out of it. We have a good team right now and the coaching staff is sticking with me, so I just have to stick with it right now.”
What turned out to a key in Robinson’s development that season was the ability to let the game come to him more.
“Right now they’re working on my pitch selection and trying to slow the game down,” said Robinson in an interview I did with him in late April 2012. “I get a little amped up at times when I get a big opportunity, a big RBI on second base. Just slowing the game down and hitting my pitches rather than swinging at the pitcher’s pitches.”
Whatever lessons Perez and others taught him that year, Robinson learned them well. He went on to walk 86 times that year – still the second most in a season by a Crawdad – which led to a .409 on-base percentage, the fifth highest in team history.
“We try to teach that,” said then Rangers director of player development Tim Purpura of Robinson’s strike-zone discipline. “But honestly, I don’t know if you can teach that. When we emphasize it, we push it, but, some guys get it and some guys don’t… I think as a general philosophy, if you control the strike zone, you’re going to get better pitches to hit. Guys like Drew are a rare breed. Some guys, it just clicks early.”
Robinson also had a knack to be in the middle of late-game, clutch situations. During the 2012 season, Hickory had eight walk-off wins. Robinson was involved in five of them, including three game-ending RBIs in a ten-day span and was named the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week on June 11, 2012.
As Robinson moved up the ladder, he had to continually make adjustments on how he might get to the majors. He was the fourth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010 out of Silverado High School in Las Vegas, listed as a shortstop. However, with names such as Leury Garcia, Jurickson Profar, Hanser Alberto and Luis Sardinas at short, as well as Elvis Andrus establishing himself in the majors, Robinson was shifted to third
After moving up to play third at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2013, the drafting and subsequent rising of uber-prospect Joey Gallo necessitated a position change. After playing third full-time from 2011 to 2013, he’s played just 46 games there since. Robinson’s played a lot of outfield, dabbled around at first and second – he filled in for Rougned Odor at Hickory after Odor suffered a dislocated shoulder – whatever it’s taken to get him on the field.
Back in 2012, Pupura hinted that might be Robinson’s path to get to the majors someday.
“I will say that one of our (Texas Rangers) philosophies is to make sure that guys have some versatility,” said Pupura. “That they learn how to play other positions … Here, I want guys to become proficient at a primary position, but also have a secondary or in some cases have a third position that they’re good at. All it does is create more opportunities for them to get playing time as they move up the ladder.”
*Robinson’s promotion by the numbers at Hickory:
*He is the 151st former Crawdads player to get to the major.
*He is the 43rd player during the Rangers affiliation to go to the majors
*He is the 10th member of the 2012 team to get to the majors (Hanser Alberto, Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff, Andrew Faulkner, Luke Jackson, Phil Klein, Nick Martinez, Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas)
*He is the 10th Crawdads third baseman to eventually play in the majors (Greg Norton, Pete Rose, Jr., Carlos Lee, Joe Crede, Yurendell DeCaster, Jose Bautista, Matt Hague, Matt West, Joey Gallo)
*98 of the 151 players came through the draft, 33 of them high schoolers.
*107 of the 151 players were U.S. born, five from Nevada (Rocky Biddle, Steve Lerud, Joe Wieland, Joey Gallo)
*He is the Crawdads sixth fourth-round draft pick (out of 16) that came to Hickory then went to the majors (Jeff Abbott, Jeff Keppinger, Brent Lillibridge, Jared Hughes, Joe Wieland).
It’s always fun for me – and for most minor league observers, those who are paid to do this and those who are not – to try and figure out which players from a Low-A roster will get to the major leagues. Looking at the 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster and trying to guess who from that squad would make is a fascinating exercise in hindsight
The 2012 Hickory Crawdads roster featured FOUR first-round selections and only one – Luke Jackson – made it past AA. Nick Martinez, who threw 26 innings at Fordham University, a program which hadn’t had a former pitcher in the majors since 2001, started the 2012 season in the Crawdads bullpen. He went on to make the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, then put together a strong 2013 season that catapulted him to a major league debut with the Rangers at the start of the 2014 season.
Martinez, now looking to his fourth MLB season, has a key stretch coming up during which he is trying to make the team either as a fifth starter or a bullpen arm.
The first full season for Martinez was somewhat average for the then-21-year-old. He posted a 4.83 ERA over 117 2/ 3 innings, though he did strike out 109 batters to just 37 walks. The native of Miami, FL admitted that 2012 was one in which he was learning to become a professional.
In the interview below – done during last week’s Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C., Martinez talks his rise to the major leagues with Texas and what helped him along the way.
When you were here in 2012, did you ever think that you’d be coming back here in 2017 as a major league pitcher?
Martinez: No, I couldn’t look that far ahead down the road. It is good to be back. The memories are coming to me. I used to play many golf rounds out here at Rock Barn and I had a lot of great memories playing for Hickory.
What is the biggest memory you can recall from that season?
Martinez: Baseball wise, it’s an interesting year because it’s your first full season. You get to learn a lot about yourself mentally and physically. Obviously, that’s one of the milestones of playing a full season. Off the field, though, it’s a chance to really bond with your teammates. We had a lot of great memories playing here at Rock Barn.
You had come out of college, and if I remember right, you had thrown something like 26 innings in college. Who or what circumstance gave you the confidence that you could pitch at a professional level?
Martinez: My father, since high school, kind of prepared me just in case I ever became a pitcher. He had me go to some pitching lessons, so it wasn’t completely bazaar for me to make that transition. I was okay with making that transition before it even happened. In college, I just wanted to play professional baseball. Once the Rangers gave me that chance as a pitcher, I was all in and eager to learn and get better. I still am.
You had pretty much a quick rise when you left here and debuted in 2014. What flipped the switch and gave you the confidence that you could do this on a major league level?
Martinez: 2013 was probably my best minor league season. I was more consistent. I knew what I needed to do to keep that consistency. I was clear mentally and I knew what I needed to do. Obviously, when you transfer up to the major league level, it doesn’t exactly equal the same amount of mental pressure and mental consistency. I went through my ups and downs in 2014, but once you get over that hump, it makes things a lot easier. Again, once you know what you need to do, you kind of establish a work ethic and things to help you maintain that.
Who is somebody that had a big influence for you to get to that level, that you could do this at the major league level?
Martinez: Every pitching coach I came across in the minor league system, as well as the pitching coordinator. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with coaches that have made me better at every level and taken my game to the next step and prepare myself mentally and physically.
What was it like to step on a major league mound for the first time?
Martinez: Surreal. It’s crazy. Obviously, you’re anxious and nervous and stuff like that, but it’s kind of an anxiousness and nervousness that you can work with, because I felt prepared. I felt like I was ready for this. Obviously, it’s something you train for your whole life. It’s something you dream of and I felt like I belonged on the mound and I was ready to go. I was very fortunate, also, to be pitching in my home state, so my family was able to drive up and watch my debut.
Who was the first hitter that gave you the reality check that you were in the major leagues?
Martinez: Evan Longoria. The reality check that said, “this is the show; this is the big leagues.” In my debut.
Did he hit you hard or something?
Martinez: He smoked a ball. I got him out, but he smoked a ball somewhere. I think it was right at someone. Thank God, he got a good handle on it. (Note: In the second inning of Martinez’s debut, Longoria grounded sharply off Martinez for a 1-4-3 putout.)
Who was the first hitter you faced that was a dream hitter. Maybe somebody, when you were in high school, that you said, “I’d like to face this guy.”
Martinez: 2014, Derek Jeter’s last year in the major leagues. I got to face him at Yankee Stadium and once again at home in Arlington. It’s just something I’ll never forget, obviously. He does his whole pre-pitch routine in the box. It’s something that you see on TV and on video games, and now he’s doing it to you and letting you know he’s ready. It was a dream come true. It was wild.
Looking ahead to this year, I know the Rangers are looking to solidify the number-five spot. What are you looking for, as far as getting your foot in that door and keeping that spot?
Martinez: Competing. I’m going to go into spring training competing for that fifth spot in the rotation. I’m still in the part of my career where being in the major leagues at all is a goal. I’m going to be competing for the fifth spot, but if a bullpen spot opens up, I’m also going to be eager to land that spot. My main goal, first, is to be in the major leagues, but, obviously, I set my goals a little higher. I know I can help this team at the start.
I meant to ask this earlier, what did (pitching coach) Storm Davis mean to you for that 2012 in Hickory?
Martinez: Storm played a huge part in that mental game of baseball and what to expect in your first full season, mentally and how your body is going to feel physically – how tired you’re going to get and ways to grind through it. He helped me out a lot with different sequences and what to look for in hitters.