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While the streaking Mets actively shop for a corner outfielder to replace the injured Moises Alou and Ryan Church prior

While the streaking Mets actively shop for a corner outfielder to replace the injured Moises Alou and Ryan Church prior to baseball’s July 31 trading deadline, 19-year-old Fernando Martinez, who can be either the long-term solution in the outfield, or the bait for the team’s short-term answer, showcased his talents at the Futures Game Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Martinez had one hit in two at-bats on Sunday, and as he has done since signing with the Mets, excelled against players more experienced and older than he is. But with a number of injuries limiting him to just 791 professional at-bats, even a team that promotes as aggressively as the Mets has to be reticent about throwing Martinez into the midst of a pennant race.

Martinez says he’s ready.

“For me, it was so exciting to be here in New York,” he said Sunday, smiling broadly as he spoke in front of the visiting dugout on the field at Yankee Stadium following the game. “This is the city where I want to be.”

Even the most optimistic projection for Martinez didn’t have him knocking on the major league door by 2008. Martinez signed with the Mets for $1.4 million in July 2005 out of the Dominican Republic. But at age 16, it seemed he was many years away from big league stardom.

The Mets, however, pushed him into leagues where he was among the youngest. In full-season A-ball, Martinez put up a .333/.389/.505 line for Hagerstown at age 17 in 2006. Though he struggled in his promotion to high-A ball at the end of the season, the Mets still promoted him to AA Binghamton in 2007, where the 18-year-old hit .271/.336/.377.

That line is more than respectable for a prospect so young relative to the league. But it was discovered that he had been playing for much of the season with a stress fracture in his hand, and he missed the rest of the 2007 campaign. In other words, not only was he holding his own while young for the league—he wasn’t even 100 percent physically.

Martinez has improved his AA performance this season, to .294/.335/.422, but missed a month with a strained right hamstring.

"If he didn’t miss that time, he’d be in the majors this year," Tony Bernazard, the vice president for player development, told Newsday on July 11.

Martinez, who said he talks to Jose Reyes about three times a week to help him prepare for life in the major leagues, believes it is a matter of when, not if.

“I get myself ready, I know it will happen,” he said. “So I just wait for the moment, I want to be here. I am prepared.”

But there are still some red flags, statistically, that suggest Martinez may not be ready to help the Mets offensively in 2008. At AA, he has 48 strikeouts in 218 at-bats, suggesting a difficulty making contact that will likely intensify during his first brush with major league pitching. That, in combination with a lack of patience—just 12 walks all season—suggests that many major league pitchers will find ways of dealing with Martinez.

The distance between Martinez’s present and his future is problematic for the Mets, who recently lost their starting left fielder Alou for the season with a hamstring tear, and can’t reasonably expect anything from Church, who continues to battle post-concussion symptoms.

But any discussions with other teams about quality bats, such as Colorado’s Matt Holliday or Pittsburgh’s Xavier Nady, likely start with Martinez. This is due in part to his stature as a prospect, and due in part to New York’s farm system, which lacks frontline talent outside of him.

Martinez said he has heard the rumors, and he’s seen some of his peers get dealt, such as Carlos Gomez, who was traded to Minnesota in the Johan Santana swap.

“But I can’t worry about it,” he said. “I will work hard and play hard. I want to be here. I am ready.” Live Bait