Prospect season in review: Twins’ Martin
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at second-ranked Twins prospect Austin Martin. Coming into his highly anticipated debut season, there was an expectation that Austin Martin would need to bounce around until he found a stable position on
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at second-ranked Twins prospect Austin Martin.
Coming into his highly anticipated debut season, there was an expectation that Austin Martin would need to bounce around until he found a stable position on the field. As it turned out, he moved a lot more than anyone probably expected in 2021.
Martin was traded from the Blue Jays to the Twins along with right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson in the deal that sent All-Star righty José Berríos to Toronto. The move obviously came at a very early stage in the 22-year-old’s professional career.
"This is truly a top of the Draft talent who was drafted one year ago, playing in Double-A right now with no professional experience prior to that, and continuing to hit well," Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told reporters after the deal. "He’s hit well at Double-A in aggregate, but even over the last month, he continues to get better. We think this guy is a very special player."
After three seasons at Vanderbilt, Martin had been viewed by many as one of the best players in the 2020 Draft class. Falvey even said that Martin ranked first or second on the Twins’ own Draft board. The SEC batting champ turned out to be available to Toronto at No. 5 overall. Martin landed a bonus north of $7 million, which was nearly $1 million above his slot value, and instantly became the Jays’ top prospect.
All through college and in 13 games in the Grapefruit League this spring, there was never much of a question about the No. 36 overall prospect’s talent at the plate. After he spent the remainder of 2020 at the Blue Jays’ alternate site, much of the anticipation for his Minor League debut was built upon his terrific bat-to-ball skills. But there always was uncertainty about whether his future would be on the dirt or the grass.
After 93 games in the Minors, Martin did not really do much to change either perception.
The Twins second-ranked prospect, as many would predict, still hit the ball very well while splitting time almost evenly at shortstop and center field.
He batted .281 with a .424 on-base percentage, 14 extra-base hits, nine stolen bases and 16 RBIs in 56 games with Double-A New Hampshire before being dealt.
Falvey wasn’t wrong about Martin’s stretch run with the Fisher Cats either. Coming off a week-long stint on the injured list, Martin went 15-for-47 (.318) with a .508 OBP, 12 walks and five stolen bases while reaching on a hit by pitch six times over that span.
This stretch also included a trip to the Futures Game on July 11 at Coors Field. His ability to get on base followed him to Denver, where he drew a walk and added an insurance run with an RBI single to the opposite field in the final inning.
“I took the same approach to this as big-league camp,” Martin told SportsNet Canada after the game. “These guys are talented and they're good at what they do for a reason. Me, I like to sit back and observe and just see the process, see how these guys operate. There are always things that you can take from other people that you could apply to yourself. So that's my mentality, just try to get to know these guys – I'll be playing against them in the future – and learn as much as I can.”
After the deal, Martin finished out the season with Double-A Wichita, where he batted .254 with a .399 OBP. He ended the regular season on a high note, going 17-for-57 (.298) with a .406 OBP and nine walks over the final 16 games. Martin followed that up by going 6-for-12 with a double and a pair of walks as the Wind Surge were swept by Northwest Arkansas in the Double-A Central championship.
There wasn’t much power to speak of in Martin’s first professional season, with five total homers and a .382 slugging percentage overall. But that’s fairly consistent with his offensive output at Vanderbilt. He hit 14 homers in 140 total games with the Commodores and compiled a .532 SLG.
There’s obviously still time for Martin to consistently hit for extra bases, but his simplistic approach will likely keep him to a contact over power profile.
“I think hitting is complicated enough as it is, so I try to simplify everything,” Martin told MLB.com after the Draft. “When I’m in the box, I’m looking for a fastball. If you hang a breaking ball, I’ll hit it.”
Defensively, Martin played 46 games in center field and 43 games at shortstop. His inability to find a consistent home, even through college, stems from some throwing concerns and below-average arm strength. But he can play to his strengths and has the athleticism to provide defensive versatility.
Basically, even though he can’t at the moment play any one position particularly well, he’s more than serviceable at a few different spots.
“Versatility is a key aspect of my game, and it’s part of my identity as a baseball player now,” Martin told MLB.com in March. “If I can keep jumping around and keep myself flexible, I think that’s a benefit for not only myself, but for the Blue Jays and this entire organization as a whole.”
He committed 16 errors in 155 total chances as a shortstop and played a little more outfield than infield with Wichita.
The Twins have dealt with this type of situation before. Royce Lewis, Minnesota’s top prospect, has been used all over the diamond since being selected with No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 Draft. That project is ongoing as Lewis missed this season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in Spring Training. So there’s not much of a precedent set for Martin. But there is plenty of time for the Twins to sort that out -- even for a guy who's likely to play at the Minors’ highest level next season.
“This guy is a premium athlete. He’s got instincts on the field that are very unique and he can play both really well,” Falvey said. “I think the fact that he’s got that versatility to play two premium positions, inclusive of second, third and other options. That’s only going to help us going forward.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.