fb-pixel Skip to main content
2022 Red Sox Season Preview

How does J.D. Martinez do it? The Red Sox slugger reveals the secrets of his ‘toy bag.’

J.D. Martinez is the first to admit not everyone should do the drills that he does. That sometimes, it can be too much information. But the randomness in the preparation is the routine for the four-time All-Star.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — J.D. Martinez remembered the moment vividly.

It took place during a time in which Martinez knew what it felt like to be doubted. A time when he still had to prove what type of hitter he could potentially be.

His journey has been well chronicled. Released by the Astros in March 2014, Martinez totally revamped a swing that was too steep and produced too many ground balls. If he got the ball in the air a bit more with his body type — 6-foot-3, 240 pounds — he could be more successful. But that was only part of his quest. Just a small smidge of it.

Advertisement



Ultimately, Martinez would have to take his findings in front of others to critique. Teams, coaches, managers, general managers. He had to be ready for the doubt. That was the most important piece.

Martinez, seated at his locker at JetBlue Park one morning this spring, recounted one instance where he received some pushback from a coach.

“J.D.,” the coach uttered, “we gotta find you a routine.”

Martinez didn’t back down.

“I was like, ‘I totally disagree.’ ”

Martinez didn’t reveal the particular team or coach. That would be punching down after three Silver Slugger awards and four All-Star Games, the last three at designated hitter.

The back-and-forth between the two is what really mattered. If Martinez really wanted to become a successful hitter, he would have to lean on his own understanding and be confident in it, even when others questioned the philosophy.

The routine had to be engineered or structured within the unpredictable. The different variables and different movements were all a part of a routine.

“One day, I wake up and my shoulder hurts. The next day I wake up, my knee hurts. The next day, I wake up, my ankle hurts,” Martinez said. “Then your body starts to compensate and then you start doing different things.”

Advertisement



Inside Martinez’s locker, at the very top, is a two-by-four. He uses that to ensure he doesn’t dive over the plate. Inside a green bag, there’s a stick attached to a towel. Martinez will use that to ensure he’s snapping his swing instead of getting out and around the baseball.

There are balls Martinez will put under his feet during drills that remind him to stay in the ground when he hits. The feet and legs are at the fulcrum of the foundation to hitting.

There are deflated balls.

Slides he puts under his feet.

Softballs.

The list goes on.

“There are little things that I do that just help me,” Martinez said. “They call it J.D.’s toy bag.”

What does this disparate gear have in common? It's some of the reason J.D. Martinez has been one of the most productive hitters in the American League the last four seasons.Julian McWilliams

Martinez has always said his swing had to be built from the ground up. He admitted not everyone should do the drills he does. That sometimes, it can be too much information. Bobby Dalbec became interested last year as he tried to find his footing during his first full year in the big leagues.

But Martinez knew it wasn’t for Dalbec.

“He would tell me, ‘I am not a natural hitter. I’m a trained hitter. These things I have to do,’ ” Dalbec said.

Xander Bogaerts said he doesn’t know if he could do the drills or inherit Martinez’s routine. Christian Vázquez laughed when asked.

“He’s crazy,” Vázquez said. “But it works for him.”

Advertisement



That’s the key. He’s a reminder that each hitter is different, with the contrast between Martinez and his peers distinct.

There are feel hitters and then there are visual hitters. Martinez, in some odd way, falls on the extreme of both spectrums. He uses a 32-ounce Old Hickory J143M to start the year, then drops in weight to about 31 ounces as the mileage and swings of a season pile up on his muscles and shoulders. That’s feel.

During drills or in the cage, those are feel movements, too. Martinez’s two-by-four doesn’t just keep him from diving over the plate.

“Sometimes I put it between my feet. Other times I put it on the front of my foot,” he said. “Other times I put my toe on it, just to feel myself in my heel. And other times, I put my heel on it so I can feel myself on my toe.”

The feel, though, turns to visual. If something feels good in the game, but is wrong when Martinez looks at it on video between at-bats, he’ll correct and sometimes force that movement. Even if it doesn’t feel right, if it’s the proper mechanics, Martinez can live with it.

He understands that feel, for him, won’t equal success during the height of competition. Instead, being in the right position mechanically will.

“I say it’s like the constant pursuit of perfection in his game,” hitting coach Peter Fatse said. “You’re never perfect, right? But it’s the constant pursuit for him. He’s very objective with the way in which he looks at things.”

Advertisement



J.D. Martinez delivers a blast in Game 3 of last year's ALCS against Houston.Elsa/Getty

The randomness in the preparation? For Martinez, that’s the routine. He worked through it on his own when some of those closest to him didn’t see the vision, then with former Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers prior to his departure this winter to take the same job with the Rangers.

To hear Martinez, though, Hyers didn’t go to the Rangers empty handed. The toy bag is a little light.

“I feel like Tim took half my stash when he went to Texas,” Martinez said with a smile. “I have to call him up.”

More Red Sox season preview stories


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.