Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez won’t be caught off-guard again

Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez is ready to prove his doubters wrong

The 2020 season was an unprecedented challenge for many players but few struggled to adjust to the unexpected changes more than Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez.

Spring training came to an abrupt halt last March as the coronavirus pandemic rampaged across the globe. Players retreated into quarantine for months before regrouping in July for an abbreviated summer camp to prepare for a 60-game season that was thrown together on the fly. Major League Baseball managed to salvage what they could but it remained a lost season for certain players who are creatures of habit and rely on the comfort of their routine.

Martinez certainly falls into that category. Last season was the worst of his career, batting a meager .213 with a .680 OPS, seven home runs and 27 RBI in 54 games. As a DH, Martinez brings no defensive value and he isn’t a threat on the bases. When he’s not hitting, he’s not able to help his team. With a -0.6 WAR, Martinez was arguably the worst position player in baseball last season.

When he addressed the media for the first time in training camp on Tuesday, Martinez admitted that the uncertainty of when the season would begin, or if there would be a season at all, took him out of his rhythm.

“It was obviously a tough two months,” said Martinez. “I felt like I wasn’t prepared for last year. It kind of caught me off-guard. It was my fault. I take accountability for that.”

A motivated Martinez vowed that he won’t be caught off-guard again. Camp is underway with a stabilized schedule offering some semblance of normalcy. We aren’t entirely out of the woods from this pandemic yet but this season should be far closer to what players are accustomed to. Any adjustments that players are forced to make to accommodate health and safety protocols are changes that Martinez will be more prepared for this time.

Much has been made about MLB’s decision to prohibit access to video during games as a factor in Martinez’s downfall. It’s a process he has followed since his days in the minor leagues and to have that suddenly taken away from him was an unexpected change to his routine. The return of video this year will help him make adjustments to his swing between plate appearances, which will certainly help get him back on track.

Rules that prevented him from studying video during games wasn’t the only problem though. Martinez worked hard this offseason to “get to the source” of his mechanical issues. He spent hours in the batting cage working to undo some bad habits that he developed with his swing.

While he believes he has identified some of those issues, Martinez explained that he still has things he needs to work on. He needs to keep grinding, keep striving to improve. It’s not a natural swing that he uses, it’s one he had to teach himself. After a year of going through the movements incorrectly, it’s as if he has to re-teach himself. It’s a long process but it’s one Martinez is more prepared to face following a productive offseason and the return of a stable routine.

There was some concern that age might be catching up to Martinez, who turned 33 in August, but he doesn’t appear to be fazed by it. He mentioned working out with Nelson Cruz, the 40-year-old Minnesota Twins DH who won the Silver Slugger award in each of the last two seasons. Martinez said that Cruz motivates him to pursue longevity in his career. He certainly doesn’t believe he’s washed up and is eager to prove how much he has left in the tank.

Martinez has played with a chip on his shoulder since early in his career when the Houston Astros essentially gave up on him. He reinvented his swing with the Detroit Tigers, leading to a career-altering breakout. That chip began to fade as he established himself as one of game’s elite hitters but now that critics have started doubting him again, the chip is back.

A pivotal element of the Red Sox climbing out of the basement of the AL East is Martinez returning to form. It might be optimistic to assume he’ll be at his peak but it would be unwise to bet against Martinez having a productive bounce-back campaign.