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Twins ‘discovered’ J.D. Martinez but didn’t sign him

The Twins saw potential in J.D. Martinez, but who could predict he’d become one of the best sluggers in baseball?
The Twins saw potential in J.D. Martinez, but who could predict he’d become one of the best sluggers in baseball?(PATRICK SMITH/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS — In 2006, then-Twins area scout Brad Weitzel encountered a tall, rangy hitter at Charles Flanagan High School in South Florida whose offensive potential caught his attention. The player had interesting bat-to-ball skills and natural strength — enough to imagine some future upside — but a lack of athleticism and a limited defensive profile of a corner outfielder capped that interest.

Weitzel’s report was promising enough to convince the Twins to take a 36th-round flier on J.D. Martinez, making him the 1,086th pick in the draft that year. Thirteen years later, as Martinez and the Red Sox played against Minnesota at Target Field, there was a hint of pride on the part of the Twins that they identified a glimmer of potential in a player who has emerged as one of the best hitters in the game. Yet there was far more frustration that the team did not move more aggressively to sign the eventual All-Star.

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“I wish I could tell you that we were the first team to really know that he was going to be one of the best run producers in all of baseball, but unfortunately I don’t think I could do that with a straight face,” said Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff, who headed the team’s draft efforts in 2006. “Brad, as he did back in that era, he was one of the best scouts in that area. He covered the area as strong and in-depth as anyone. He picked the player out. You’ve got to give him credit, for sure. But as an organization and staff we didn’t follow it to a degree that now, in hindsight, we wish we would have.”

Martinez recalls the excitement of being drafted out of high school. The Twins made contact with him and suggested they were interested in continuing to evaluate him as a potential signee under the draft-and-follow system (which permitted teams to draft a high school player and follow him in junior college for a year before making a decision about signing him).

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“I was like, ‘Great. Pick a college. Find a college that wants me,’ ” recalled Martinez.

But there was a problem: Martinez couldn’t find a junior college program that would take him. So he ended up enrolling at Division 2 Nova Southeastern, where he played for three years before being taken by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 draft.

On one hand, it’s hard for the Twins to engage in too much self-flagellation about their lack of aggressiveness in trying to sign Martinez. After all, he made it to the 36th round out of high school and to the 20th out of college. Moreover, even when he emerged as a big leaguer for the Astros, it took him three seasons and a total transformation of his swing to become a star — after he’d been released by Houston, and after all 30 teams had let him pass through waivers.

Even so, it’s hard for Radcliff and the Twins to ignore completely the idea that they put themselves in position to have a shot at one of the preeminent sluggers in the game — and that they didn’t take it.

“It’s not a miss, but you still kind of have that attitude or perception that if we’d done a little more work here, if we’d dug in a little deeper, if we drilled down a little further . . . ,” mused Radcliff. “You don’t consider it a miss, but you still look at it as a lost opportunity. He’s a really good player.”

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Lugo in the fold

The Red Sox announced the signing of their second pick in the draft, shortstop Matthew Lugo. A major league source confirmed a report in El Nuevo Dia that the No. 69 pick in the draft will receive a signing bonus of $1.1 million, about $170,000 above the slot recommendation for that spot.

Lugo, an 18-year-old who attended the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico (and, in fact, the nephew of Carlos Beltran), is expected to start his pro career in Fort Myers, Fla., in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, likely as a shortstop. His ultimate position remains to be determined, but the Red Sox believe that he has the athleticism and skills to project as a potential everyday middle infielder with the bat life to produce power.

“The approach at the plate, he works at-bats, the bat speed, the swing level, the swing path, and the ability to manipulate the barrel, since the first time I saw him, that’s what really caught my attention,” Red Sox area scout Edgar Perez said earlier this month. “Once he got stronger, the bat speed improved. The ball started jumping off the barrel a lot better. He really separated himself from the other kids in the class. The ball sounds different off his bat.”

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The Red Sox also announced the signing of 19th-rounder Joe Davis, a slugging first baseman who featured an amazing mustache while blasting a school-record 13 homers as a junior at the University of Houston, and undrafted free agent righthander Zach Schneider out of Florida Atlantic University.

Velazquez sidelined

Hector Velazquez took one for his team on Tuesday night. The righthander, who landed on the injured list at the end of May with a back strain, had thrown just one inning in his rehab assignment with the Lowell Spinners before his activation on Monday.

But with the Sox bullpen depleted in what proved a 17-inning loss to the Twins, Velazquez — summoned to the game in the 13th, when he gave up an immediate tying homer but then settled into a strong performance — continued to pitch even as his back started to stiffen. He logged four innings, allowing just the one run, but when he took the mound to warm in the 17th, the discomfort proved too significant to remain in the game, prompting Velazquez to slam the ball to the turf before his removal.

On Wednesday, Velazquez landed back on the injured list, with Josh Smith getting summoned from Triple A Pawtucket.

“[Velazquez] was very upset. He threw the ball well,” said manager Alex Cora. “He was not rushed [in his rehab], but he went from one inning to four. There was nothing else he could do. That’s the tough part of this. But he did a good job. Hopefully it’s just kind of the same [injury] and he’s going to be back sooner rather than later.”

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PawSox report

Steve Pearce went 0 for 3 with a strikeout in his first of back-to-back rehab games for Pawtucket, after which he’ll be reevaluated for the possibility of activation from a lower-back injury. Righthander Tyler Thornburg allowed two runs on two hits and a walk while recording just two outs in his fourth rehab game with the PawSox. Lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez, in his Triple A debut, walked seven in five innings but allowed just two hits and one run. Righthander Steven Wright tossed a scoreless inning for the PawSox . . . Nathan Eovaldi (biceps) played catch for the third straight game. After Thursday’s offday, he’ll be reevaluated to determine the next step in his rehab process . . . Righthander Heath Hembree (elbow) said he felt good after playing catch on flat ground . . . Righthander Carson Smith, who signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox during the offseason, was released by the team on Saturday . . . Mookie Betts was nominated for two ESPYs as Best Male Athlete and Best MLB Player, while teammate Andrew Benintendi’s diving catch to clinch Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros was nominated for Best Play. Winners are chosen by online fan vote leading up to the awards show on July 10 in Los Angeles.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.