Padres Prospect Overview: Nathan Martorella

Credit: MiLB

Credit: TinCaps

The San Diego Padres Farm system is currently one of the best in major league baseball. Whether you read or look at the prospect rankings of Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, ESPN, or another outlet, you’ll find that Padres prospects litter the Top 100 prospect rankings. 

Jackson Merrill, Dylan Lesko, Ethan Salas, Robby Snelling, Drew Thorpe, and Leodalis de Vries are the names many have become familiar with, and understandably so, as they are viewed as the next possible stars of the franchise. 

But to build a dynasty or to attempt to topple the empire just two hours up the I-5 North, the Padres need to develop other young players inside their system who may not possess the same prospect pedigree as those listed above. 

They need prospects who can provide depth. Not necessarily superstars, but players who the Padres can count on every day in the lineup or use as a matchup or platoon option.

 It’s an issue that has plagued the Padres in recent years, but it’s one they’re hopeful can be remedied in the immediate future with the continued development of young players like Graham Pauley, Jakob Marsee, Jairo Iriarte, Samuel Zavala, and 1st basemen Nathan Martorella

A 22-year-old first baseman from the University of California-Berkeley, Martorella put together a solid 2023 campaign. He ended the season as the No. 11 overall Padres prospect per MLB Pipeline & No. 18 overall Padres farm hand by Baseball America. So, where do the former Golden Bear’s strengths & weaknesses lie? And what kind of player can Padres fans expect him to be?

 

Overview & Strengths

For the Monterey Park native, Martorella’s biggest assets are obvious when you turn on the tape and look at the data.  Martorella spent most of 2023 in High Single-A Fort Wayne, where he would display his brute power and discipline at the plate. 

In 112 Games in Fort Wayne (483 total plate appearances), he posted a 131 wRC+, .450 SLUG, .375 wOBA, and swatted 16 homers & 26 doubles, all of which ranked inside the top 10 within the Midwest League. Martorella also had a knack for power to all fields, going the other way 26.1% and back of the middle 22.7% of the time in Fort Wayne. 

Credit: TinCaps

Martorella’s power comes almost exclusively from his raw strength, as his bat speed is average at best. At times, he has a tendency to flatten his swing path. Even still, he checks in with a 50 Power Grade and was voted the best power prospect in High-A in 2023 by Baseball America. 

Along with the impressive power numbers, Martorella also posted a 15.1% walk rate, good enough for seventh-best in the Midwest League last season. 

However, his plate discipline goes beyond walks; it extends to his contact and chase rates both inside and outside the strike zone. Boasting a swing that is short to the ball and that can get to pitches in any quadrant of the zone, Martorella posted an O-swing% (out of zone swing) of just 27.3%, an O-contact% (Outside of zone contact %) of 73.3%; both of which were well above Midwest League averages last season. 

 When pitches were inside the strike zone, he would rarely miss them, as he held a Whiff% of just 24.5% and Z-Contact% (in zone contact) of 76.7%. 

To put that into context, or show just how impressive that is for a young hitter, compare it to Bryce Harper’s same data points. In 2023, Harper posted an O-swing% of 37%, an O-contact of 53%, and a Z-Contact% of 83%. 

Martorella won’t be Bryce Harper. We all know that, but these early numbers show he has an innate ability to identify quality pitches and understand the strike zone with exceptional plate discipline. 

If Martorella can continue to post or improve upon his 2o23 offensive numbers, he can certainly be a serviceable MLB player in the near future. Still, even with a stellar 23′ campaign in his back pocket, Martorella has a number of tweaks and adjustments that he will need to make in 24 to continue his upward trajectory. 

 

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Areas of Needed Improvement: 

While Martorella saw overall success last season, he isn’t a prospect without flaws, as there are several areas of concern that he will need to address this season. 

For starters, while he lit up Fort Wayne, the same cannot be said for his time in Double-A. In 99 plate appearances, albeit a very small sample size, Martorella saw a drop off in power with his wRC+ dropping to 85, slugging to .382, and his wOBA to .318. It’s not a concerning drop-off, given how small of a sample it is, but it’s something worth monitoring when the season starts up again. 

What is concerning, however, is Martorella’s strikeout & ground ball rates.

First, between High Single-A & Double-A, he struck out 101 times in 487 total at-bats; with an 18.0% strikeout rate in Fort Wayne & 14.1% rate in San Antonio. Not uncommon for first and second-year players, but a number that both Martorella and the Padres will want to see decreased in 2024. 

As it pertains to ground outs, Martorella put the ball on the ground quite often in 2023. last season, he yielded a 44.3% ground ball rate in Fort Wayne and a 50% rate in Double-A San Antonio.  It is possible that the high ground ball rate could be connected to his crouched stance. 

Combined with the strikeout and ground ball numbers are Martorella’s struggles on defense. He’s an average defender who, on tape, does not have the best first step in either left field or first base. Some of his defensive struggles can be attributed to derived from his below average. athleticism and lack of speed, which Baseball America has given a grade of 20. 

However, it’s fair to expect the defensive issues to improve this season, given his reputation of having an exceptional work ethic.

Overall, Martorella has the makeup of a high-floor, low-ceiling MLB player. The power he possess paired with ability to walk and see the strike zone should make him at minimum a serviceable big-leaguer or as a power hitting reserve & match up option.

Padres fans unfortunately won’t be able to see Martorella at San Diego spring training, as he was not one of the 32 players extended an invitation to Major League spring training. Still, he’s a player worth monitoring in Double-A San Antonio when the 2024 season is underway. 

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