He may never make those lofty top-25 predictions, but Austin Martin’s recent performance has shown he still has a viable path to the majors.
After a difficult season caused the Twins’ farm hand to disappear from all prospect lists, Martin put on a revitalizing performance in the Arizona Fall League. Martin — ranked No. 25 on Keith Law’s preseason top 100 list — batted .374/.454/.482 with six doubles, 11 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 97 plate appearances for the Glendale Desert Dogs.
The AFL stint followed a disappointing season that saw Martin pick up a UCL injury in July and finish with .685 OPS in 416 plate appearances. Martin, the lead prospect acquired from Toronto in a trade for José Berríos in July 2021, was so struggling with the proposed changes that he was never considered as a candidate to help a weary Twins club that was crushed by injuries in September and October.
But after Martin looked more like himself in Arizona, the twins are hopeful again.
“One of the better closing stories of the year,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, recently. “He’s been struggling physically, dealing with some injuries and downtime. For him to come back at the end of the year and start hitting the way he can and occasionally get to his strength – I thought his swing was as good as he’s been all year. That really caught my eye.”
Martin started last season between 25th and 52nd place the athlete, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Those projections were based in part on hopes that the athleticism of Martin, who was drafted by Vanderbilt in 2020 as No. 5 overall, would ultimately translate into more strength.
By adjusting his approach, Martin was able to improve on his already incredible ability to reach the base.
The reality is that Martin may never fully reach that point.
Before the season started, the twins attempted to make changes to Martin’s approach to the record. The idea was that Martin – who has played a lot at shortstop but tends to be more of a second base and midfield profile – has such good hit-to-ball ability that in an attempt to do so he would find himself early in the count selling for power could do more harm. Even if he doesn’t get through, Martin is so good at hitting with two shots that he could shorten and still be on base enough to justify the switch.
But the changes never really caught on. In the first three months of the season, Martin hit .249/.378/.313 with 11 extra base hits in 283 plate appearances.
“There were a few mechanical things that we tried with (Martin),” said Alex Hassan, who was recently promoted from farm director to vice president of hitting and overall development. “He had to make that his own. … You see, hitting is difficult and changing is difficult. I’ll be the first to admit it didn’t go great and it certainly felt like he was looking at how that should look and feel at the start of the season.”
— Arizona Fall League of MLB (@MLBazFallLeague) November 12, 2022
Martin ripped the UCL in his non-throwing hand on July 1 and missed 6 1/2 weeks. At that time, his name fell from lists of interested parties. Although it was thought he was almost ready for the major leagues by the start of the season, Martin’s name never surfaced as a possible option as the Twins dealt with those late-season injuries.
But Martin recently told MLB Pipeline that he’s been using his free time to recalibrate. He made a new plan with his hitting coaches and started again. Martin returned to action on August 17 and returned to his old approach, ending with a solid September.
He hit .268/.405/.423 with seven extra base hits in 89 plate appearances. Martin took it even further in Fall League as he held on to the form that helped him become an on-base machine. Instead of focusing on power and driving the ball, Martin went back to putting the ball in play, working out long plate appearances, and stealing bases when he reached.
Martin explained his thinking on a recent episode of the MLB Pipeline Podcast.
“I have the potential to hit the ball wide more often than I do,” said Martin. “But let me try to do what I can bring to the table to help the team win. It’s just getting hits, working counts, running around on bases, stealing bases, being a good baserunner… I think I put way too much emphasis on hitting home runs and all that, and it’s set me back. That’s just not me as a player.”
A standout performance in Fall League is unlikely to move Martin’s prospect needle up. Those high projections were credited to Martin developing into a stronger hitter capable of hitting 15 to 20 homers, a mark he may never reach.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a good player.
A veteran scout said Martin’s hitting tool and ability to use the entire field gives him a chance to be a solid/average hitter or maybe a little better. Steven Kwan of Cleveland, who came third in the 2022 American League Rookie of the Year poll, is a good comparison.
Martin also expects to be an above-average baserunner (MLB Pipeline rated his run tool a 55 out of 80).
Throw in his defensive versatility and Martin, who turns 24 in March, can help the Twins.
“I would still be positive about the year as a whole,” said Hassan. “He learned himself and we learned him and his learning style, how he likes to receive and interpret information at the end of the stroke, we learned a lot.
“I still believe in the guy. … Every time you bounce back from your less-than-best season, I think it’s a confidence boost and a reminder that this guy can hit. He has skill. We’ll see what type of player he ultimately becomes. But I think if he finishes the year strong where he’s producing and has good bats and how his swing is feeling right now everything is positive, especially looking forward to 2023.”
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)