Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin, who helped the Commodores win the College World Series last June, may very well be the Orioles’ choice with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft June 10.
But it wasn’t always the smoothest ride to the top of the draft. Martin was a well-regarded recruit out of Trinity Christian Academy in Florida, but at one point Commodores head coach Tim Corbin worried that Martin didn’t have what it took to succeed at Vanderbilt, particularly in the classroom. Corbin and Martin made a phone call to Martin’s father, Christopher, early during Martin’s time in Nashville to discuss some alternative options.
“I thought based on his effort level and where his grades were, I just didn’t think he was cut out for this,” Corbin said on Glenn Clark Radio June 1. “I really wanted he and I to make a call to his dad and talk about really moving to another school – basically a junior college. [Martin] said, ‘We’re not doing that. We’re not doing that.’ He said, ‘I came here for a reason and I am going to succeed academically.’ The bottom line is he did. He’s a guy that takes on challenges really well.”
Martin ended up hitting .368/.474/.532 from 2018-2020, highlighted by a sophomore season during which he led the highly competitive SEC in batting average (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) and set the program record for runs scored (87). He played mostly third base and center field at Vanderbilt, though he played every position other than pitcher and catcher as a freshman.
Martin is now the most popular player linked to the Orioles with the No. 2 pick, though the club is surely scouring over other options like Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who hit 54 home runs from 2018-2020, and Texas A&M left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy, who struck out 224 hitters in 152 college innings. Whoever the Orioles pick will become a major part of the rebuilding project alongside catcher Adley Rutschman, last year’s No. 1 pick out of Oregon State.
Though he doesn’t know Rutschman, Corbin says Rutschman and Martin are the kind of players equipped to advance a major rebuild.
“From afar I look at Adley and I go, ‘That’s a damn good competitor and that’s a damn good leader,’” Corbin said. “And I would say if your organization is fortunate enough to get a guy like Austin, then what you’re going to have is … two quality, quality guys that I think can get to the big leagues relatively quick – within a few years – and I think are going to impact an organization. I think they’re the type of guys that like to carry an organization.”
So how did Martin go from a cloudy future at Vanderbilt to a possible face-of-the-franchise type in Baltimore? It’s his competitive drive and desire to succeed, according to Corbin, who has won 753 games and two College World Series titles with the Commodores since 2003.
Corbin explained that Martin’s competitiveness manifests itself several ways …
– Corbin says Martin “competes against the ball” rather than an opponent. What does he mean by that? “I just think for him, the ball is the game. It’s not the opponent so much,” Corbin said. “If we’re on a scouting report and we’re talking about a pitcher, I think he could give two rips about who the pitcher is. I think the matter is, ‘Just tell me how fast it is, tell me if it’s moving, tell me his second pitch, that’s all I need to know.’ And I think after that, he’s like a boxer in a ring and he just keeps it simple. He’s just punching.”
– The coach explained Martin has supreme confidence in himself. “I think he’s one of those guys that, ‘I’m the best player in the country. Why would you even think of anyone else? I’m the best player.’ That’s what he thinks,” Corbin said. “He’s not going to say that, but he knows that. He’d say it to me, but I think when guys are built that way, they’re really not overly concerned with what that light looks like outside of their life. Their life is centered around competing, doing something day in, day out.”
– Corbin said Martin is used to performing with a target on his back, having been a regular since his freshman year and hitting toward the top of the order during his three years – but that never affected him. How do competitors like Martin keep that tunnel vision? “I don’t think they give a rat’s butt what’s around them,” Corbin said. “They don’t care who’s in the stands, they don’t care how many evaluators are there, they don’t care how many guns are going up, they don’t care how many media people are sitting there. They’re out there for one reason, and that’s just to kick the other guy’s rear end. That’s it, plain and simple.”
– The coach also referred to “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan’s time with the Chicago Bulls through the lens of Jordan’s sixth and final championship season in 1997-98. The documentary details the way Jordan pushed his teammates in practice, something he said Martin does, too. “And then I think he’s got the unique ability to get back into a locker room environment and there’s a piece of empathy with him where he can … help a kid who might’ve come up short,” Corbin said. “I’ve just seen that too many times, too.”
The biggest question about Martin is his eventual defensive home. He started 52 games at third base and 13 at second base in 2019. He played center field for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2019. He started the 2020 season at third base before moving to center field. Evaluators wanted to get a look at Martin at shortstop during his draft year, but he never played it during the pandemic-affected season.
Analysts are split on where Martin ends up. Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo believes he has the tools to play shortstop, but MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis worries his arm isn’t good enough for the left side of the infield and says he’s probably a center fielder or second baseman. CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson hopes Martin can play center field and “moonlight” at second and third.
Corbin compared Martin’s versatility to the hybrid defensive players taken in recent NFL Drafts who can play outside linebacker and in the secondary. Corbin explained baseball teams are increasingly looking for that type of player as well, a profile Martin fits. But can he play shortstop? Corbin said he’s answered that question “critically” for evaluators.
“I think if given time to do anything and he’s put in that spot, he’s going to be able to play it and he’s going to be able to play it well,” Corbin said. “He wasn’t really given the time to do a whole lot of things here outside of play third base and center field. I wouldn’t put anything by him because I know his [makeup]. If I was on a cliff and you say, ‘What position’s he playing?’ I’d say you can put him in center field today and he would benefit your team, but I think there’s a lot of dimensions to his game defensively.”
For more from Corbin, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics