PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When the Mets convinced Pedro Martinez to sign as a free agent on Dec. 16, 2004, they felt they were doing more than signing an All-Star pitcher. They believed Martinez would give them instant credibility in the talent-rich Dominican Republic, where he is a national hero.

And they have been right. The Mets have about a dozen promising young pitchers from the Dominican in camp, but the biggest bonanza stemming from the Martinez signing thus far clearly is another Martinez -- Fernando, an 18-year-old outfield prospect with distinctive potential.

"He's a five-tool player," said Tony Bernazard, the Mets' vice president of development. "He's one of those hitters that comes along once in a generation. As long as he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a real impact player."

The Mets signed Fernando Martinez on July 2, 2005, less than seven months after luring the celebrated pitcher with the same surname. The then-16-year-old commanded $1.4 million signing bonus because a number of teams, including the Rockies, Padres and Rangers, were pursuing him.

"I call it the domino effect," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He had a few teams that were very interested in him, but he chose us at least in part because of the influence of Pedro."

The Mets brought the left-handed-hitting and throwing youngster to Shea Stadium for some workouts, and he prompted gawking with an easy stroke that sent numerous balls flying over the wall in left-center field.

"He's a natural talent," Minaya said. "He's just a good hitter and a balanced hitter. [He has] power plus average."

Martinez, born in Rio San Juan in the Dominican, is tentatively scheduled to play at Double-A Binghamton this season. The Mets are being careful not to rush his development, but they like what they've seen after challenging him in relatively small ways.

The Mets allowed Martinez to play in the Dominican Summer League as a 16-year-old. He made his professional debut last season, playing for Class A Hagertown of the South Atlantic League and then a higher Class A league, at St. Lucie in the Florida State League. At 17, he was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League.

In 45 games at Hagertown, he hit .333 with five home runs, 14 doubles and 28 RBIs. With St. Lucie, he started slowly, but adjusted well as the regular season turned into the playoffs, according to Bernazard. He hit .193 in the regular season, but helped St. Lucie win the FSL championship.

The Mets then sent Martinez to the Arizona Fall League, where he was the youngest player in league history, Bernazard said. Again he started slow, but adjusted impressively.

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"He's one of those special kids," Bernazard said. "He's got a great attitude, great desire. He doesn't want to be just good; he wants to be great, and he works at it."

Martinez is 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds -- average size for someone who has been regularly peppering the maintenance facility beyond the right-center field fence on Field No. 4 with 400-foot-plus home runs.

The Mets don't have the young outfielder on any special weight training program. Minaya expects him to fill out as he gets older.

"I think that'll take care of itself," the general manager said.

Martinez also is considered "an above-average defensive player, with a very good arm," according to Bernazard. The Mets presently have him playing center field, but are mulling a possible change, perhaps to left field. After all, they have Carlos Beltran, just 29, in center field. And at some point, they feel Lastings Milledge, 21, will take over in right field.

Asked what he feels his biggest asset is, Martinez doesn't mull the question long.

"For me, the bat is the best," he said.

Queried on where his inordinate power comes from, he pointed to his legs, atypically thick.

He volunteered that he feels he needs to work most on his defense and his baserunning.

He refers to Pedro Martinez as "my friend." While he acknowledges that Pedro was a factor in his decision to sign with the Mets, he said, "I signed with the Mets because I like the Mets."

The feeling certainly is mutual.

Said Bernazard, "From everything we've seen, he's got a great future ahead of him."