When the New York Yankees signed Russell Martin to a one-year contract during the offseason, they were hoping simply for Martin to provide spring training competition to youngsters Francisco Cervelli and Jesus Montero.

After a solid spring, Martin earned the starters job and has hit the ground running so far this season.

The Yankees have played 14 games this season and Martin has been the catcher in all but one of them. In 13 games, he has belted four home runs, knocked in 11 runs, stolen two bases and has hit a very respectable .289. 

The team never expected such an offensive output from Martin, who had hit a combined .249 over the previous two seasons with the Dodgers.

During his final two seasons in Los Angeles, he hit 12 home runs, drove in 79 runs and stole 17 bases. 

This came as a shock to the Dodgers organization, as Martin was beginning to become one of the premier backstops in the league. His best statistical campaign came in 2007 when he won the Silver Slugger and was voted on to the All-Star roster.

He compiled a .293/.374/.469 triple slash line while hitting 19 homers and driving in 87 runs. He also stole 21 bases, the most for a catcher since Jason Kendall swiped 22 bags in 2000.

Because Martin is such a superb defensive backstop, any productivity they receive from him with the bat is a huge bonus.

Gaining the trust of a pitching staff is generally very difficult for a catcher with a new club, but Martin has had no trouble so far establishing a bond with his pitchers.

It seems as if the pitchers love throwing to him. They aren’t afraid of bouncing balls in the dirt because they know that he’ll block them. Martin isn’t afraid of giving up the body for the sake of the team and the pitchers respect him for that.

A perfect example of that is AJ Burnett.

Burnett has always had a “personal catcher” during his tenure in the Bronx. In 2009, it was Jose Molina. In 2010, it was Francisco Cervelli. There will be no more of that in 2011, as Martin has stepped up and taken control.

Burnett has been off to a fast start in 2011, posting a 3-0 record with a 4.67 ERA.

So sure, maybe it’s a little early to hand Russell Martin the honor of the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year. But if he keeps producing at this pace, there may not be any other worthy candidates.

Other comeback players such as Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore, Erik Bedard, Bobby Jenks, Joe Nathan, Brandon Webb and Jake Peavy will all be in the running as well.

Regardless of if Martin is named Comeback Player of the Year, the Yankees will be happy if he continues to produce at the same rate he is now.

Another All-Star selection may not be out of the question for Martin and neither would 20+ homers and 80+ RBI. Don’t be surprised if he steals upwards of 20 bases, either.

All-in-all, the Yankees are happy they signed Russell Martin and will probably look to lock him up long-term sometime in the near future.


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