With the 2020 MLB Draft rapidly approaching, the player most commonly linked to the Orioles with the No. 2 pick is Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin. Recent mock drafts by Baseball America, ESPN, MLB Pipeline and The Athletic all predict Baltimore will take Martin.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Martin is a career .368/.474/.532 hitter with the Commodores and led the SEC in average (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) as a sophomore in 2019. Though his position is unsettled – he played mostly third base as a sophomore and mostly center field during the shortened 2020 season – one analyst thinks he’s the top prospect in the draft, which will be held virtually June 10-11.
R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports recently tabbed Martin as his No. 1 draft prospect over Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the consensus top talent in the class. Torkelson, who swatted 54 home runs in three years at Arizona State, projects to eventually hit in the middle of a big-league order, but Anderson prefers Martin’s skill set to Torkelson’s.
Anderson allows that there’s some projection involved because Martin doesn’t have a true position yet; he hopes Martin can play center field and “moonlight” at second and third base. But Anderson says Martin’s defensive versatility and ability to hit is a special combination.
“Offensively, he’s got a really good approach,” Anderson said on Glenn Clark Radio May 19. “He has good bat-to-ball skills. His exit velocity suggests there’s more raw power there than you think. I had one scout throw a plus power grade on him potentially down the road. And he can also contribute on the base paths. He’s a smart player. He’s coming from a very good program. He’s played against top-flight competition and has produced. I just think that his overall value has a chance to exceed Torkelson even if Torkelson is by far the better hitter.”
Martin started 52 games at third base and 13 games at second base as a sophomore. Evaluators hoped Martin would get a chance to play shortstop in 2020 because of the graduation of Ethan Paul, Vanderbilt’s starting shortstop in 2019. Instead, freshman Carter Young played the position. Martin began the year at third base, then shifted to center field.
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis says Martin struggled at third base in his brief time at the position this year and has looked tentative throwing the ball from the hot corner in the past, meaning that his eventual defensive home may very well be center field or second base.
“Look, he never played shortstop at Vanderbilt so he’s not going to play shortstop in the big leagues,” Callis said on GCR May 14. “Could he play third? Maybe. The arm is the question. I don’t think he’d be a Gold Glover in center field, but I think he’s got athleticism and he runs well enough that he could be a solid center fielder. Or he might just be an offensive second baseman. Whoever gets Austin Martin, it’s going to be a shock if this guy isn’t a .280 hitter. This guy, if he doesn’t hit, I think everybody will be shocked.”
Martin played for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, hitting .250/.321/.396 in 12 games and starting 11 games in center field. Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo thinks Martin has the raw tools to stick at shortstop and would like to see him try the position in pro ball, but he was intrigued by what he saw from Martin in center field for Team USA last summer.
“He gets outstanding reads on the ball,” Collazo said on GCR May 27. “For a guy who really hadn’t had a ton of time in the outfield, he took to it pretty naturally. Just his combination of speed, athleticism and his ability to read the ball, I think center field is a good fit for him naturally. It’s still a premium position.”
Though there’s debate about Martin’s eventual defensive home, there’s less debate about the hitter he has a chance to be. Martin will soon join a long line of productive college hitters who have gone on to become premium draft picks in recent years, including catcher Adley Rutschman, taken No. 1 overall out of Oregon State by the Orioles last June.
If Martin is drafted and developed as an infielder, comparisons will surely be drawn between Martin and some other highly-drafted college infielders, including shortstop Dansby Swanson (taken first overall out of Vanderbilt by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015) and third baseman Anthony Rendon (taken sixth overall out of Rice by the Washington Nationals in 2011).
In six-plus seasons with the Nationals, Rendon played 759 games at third base and another 170 at second base – two of the positions Martin may end up at in the future. Rendon, 29, is a career .290/.369/.490 hitter, finished third in National League MVP voting in 2019 and signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels this past offseason.
Could Martin turn out like Rendon, particularly as a hitter, or is that comparison too lofty?
“I think Anthony’s got a little bit more power and I think that Martin’s got a little bit more quickness to him,” Callis said. “But I think you’re talking about that type of skilled hitter. I kind of like that. I hadn’t really thought about that, but I think as hitters, that’s a very, very good comp.”
Collazo says Martin has the best hit tool in the class, “exceptional” strike zone judgment and “electric” bat speed.
“He has all the elements you kind of look for in a player to be one of the best hitters in the game,” Collazo said. “Now obviously he has a lot of work to get there. It’s tough comping a player an MVP guy, but I do think if you’re looking at the players in this class, he has the best chance to hit for a high average for a very long time.”
For more from Anderson, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Callis, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Collazo, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics