ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel: Orioles Will Likely Take Austin Martin, But …

With the MLB Draft fast approaching, most mock drafts have linked the Baltimore Orioles to Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel says the Orioles are still considering other options — most notably New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales — but the draft analyst believes it is most likely the team will spend the No. 2 overall pick on Martin June 10.

“I think [Martin] is the best player, and in these situations, over 75 percent of the time the team takes the best player,” McDaniel said on Glenn Clark Radio June 1.

Martin’s versatility is one of his greatest strengths, as he saw time at second base, third base and in the outfield while in college. During his three years with the Commodores, he slashed .368/.474/.532, hitting 14 homers and driving in 76 runs. He led the SEC in batting average and on-base percentage as a sophomore and was named a 2019 first-team All-American by D1Baseball and Baseball America.

Those offensive numbers, along with plus speed and solid defense, turned heads, and Martin rocketed up 2020 draft rankings. Most analysts believe that slugging Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson will go first overall to the Detroit Tigers, with Martin slotting in right behind.

McDaniel agrees with those projections and believes Martin would fit best as a second baseman. But he sees Martin and Gonzales as similar players and would not be surprised if Baltimore picked the Aggies’ second baseman.

“He’s a plus hitter and everything else is average, but he has great metrics and he already knows how to lift the ball,” McDaniel said.

Gonzales torched the Western Athletic Conference during three seasons in Las Cruces, N.M., hitting .399/.502/.747 while crushing 37 homers and driving in 152 runs. He was leading the country with 12 home runs in 16 games this season before it was cut short and was named the National Player of the Year by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

Though Gonzales played in an extremely hitter-friendly atmosphere, those eye-popping numbers have caught the attention of analysts. Gonzales is a bonafide top-five pick, McDaniel said.

The main on-field difference between Gonzales and Martin is the latter’s versatility. But the bigger difference between the two comes off the field.

Martin is advised by agent Scott Boras, notorious as one of baseball’s toughest contract negotiators. Gonzales is not advised by Boras and figures to come at a lesser price to clubs. If the Orioles choose Gonzales, McDaniel said that could free up money to be spent on talented high schoolers at picks 30 and 39.

“If one of them is $1.5 million or $2 million cheaper and you know who you’re going to spend your money on [later in the draft] … there’s a chance they don’t think that difference is that big or they think that Nick Gonzales plus a better second pick is a better combination of players,” McDaniel said.

While Martin and Gonzales have been the two names most often linked to Baltimore, McDaniel says there are a few other players the Orioles may pursue.

Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy could be an antidote to the team’s pitching woes. Lacy has a 2.07 ERA, 224 strikeouts in 152 innings in three seasons and has the best pure stuff in this class, topping out at 97 mph with his fastball.

But Lacy has occasional command issues, averaging 4.22 walks per nine innings, and McDaniel sees Baltimore general manager Mike Elias sticking with a position player.

“He leans on the models, and the models generally tell you up top to take a performance college hitter,” McDaniel said. “That’s the safest demographic with the best performance.”

Zac Veen, a power-hitting outfielder from Spruce Creek High School in Florida, could also be an option for the Orioles. He grades out similar to Torkelson and might be the best pure hitter in the draft.But McDaniel cautioned that Veen has not faced the level of competition that Torkelson has and as such would be a safer pick later in the top 10.

After the top pick, Baltimore has myriad options later in the draft but will have to select carefully. This year’s draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five due to the coronavirus pandemic, and rebuilding teams such as the Orioles have little margin for error with their choices.

Most promising, according to McDaniel, is left-hander Dax Fulton, a high school standout from Oklahoma. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound pitcher is coming off Tommy John surgery but has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with solid command. McDaniel said Fulton has fallen in draft boards due to his injury but is a top-20 talent with a high ceiling that could provide good value to Baltimore at pick No. 30.

Beyond Fulton, a cadre of about a half-dozen other high school prospects could be intriguing to the Orioles, McDaniel said, though it is too soon to tell who else could be available at that point.

But Martin remains Baltimore’s primary target, and presuming the Orioles select him, McDaniel sees a top-tier talent coming to Camden Yards in the future.

“His value could be somewhere near Ben Zobrist,” he said.

For more from McDaniel, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Vanderbilt and New Mexico State Athletics