Blue Jays 'ecstatic' to land Martin with No. 5 pick

Vanderbilt shortstop was projected by many to go in top two

June 12th, 2020

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays selected Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin with the No. 5 pick in Wednesday’s 2020 MLB Draft, landing one of the top players in the class with the highest selection the organization had held since 1997.

This wasn’t what the Blue Jays were expecting when the Draft opened, but it might be better. When the Orioles selected Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad at No. 2 (the spot many expected to see Martin drafted), Toronto director of amateur scouting Shane Farrell knew there was a chance Martin could be available at No. 5. By the time that pick rolled around, the Blue Jays were “ecstatic.”

“I think we were a little surprised,” Farrell said. “Obviously, we’re keeping an eye on the mock Drafts as they come out throughout the week and aware of industry consensus, but I think it really started to shake up at picks 2 and 3, and we were surprised, but certainly prepared to make that selection.”

Martin is the No. 2 prospect in the 2020 Draft class per MLB Pipeline and was considered by some to be the best player available. Now, he'll have the opportunity to join Toronto's young positional core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.

Martin and Bichette already share a connection, too, as the two played baseball together while growing up in Florida, with Martin coming from Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville and Bichette playing his high school ball at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg.

“I’m excited. I’ve heard a lot of things from my former teammate, Philip Clarke, who’s there now with their Minor League organization,” Martin said. “I’m a former teammate of Bo Bichette when we were younger, so it will be cool to get up there and play with him again.”

Announced as a shortstop, Martin is open to anything the Blue Jays have in mind defensively after playing multiple positions across the infield and outfield at Vanderbilt, where he played under head coach Tim Corbin. Martin is known more for his bat, which was good enough for MLB Pipeline to label him as the “best pure hitter” in this Draft class. But Corbin was so impressed by Martin’s makeup that he recently entertained the idea of a Michael Jordan comparison.

“I’m not going to compare [Martin] to anyone,” Corbin says. “But while I’m watching [The Last Dance], I’m thinking of this kid. You can see how competitive people control and command their adrenaline in a high-pressure situation. They crave and survive those moments and push others to raise themselves.”

Previously drafted by the Indians in the 37th round out of high school in 2017, Martin excelled at Vanderbilt with a simple, contact-focused swing that led many to profile him as a high-average hitter at the next level, with an ability to reach base at a high rate. His power may show itself more in consistent line drives from corner to corner, instead of pure home run numbers, but his advanced plate approach is what stood out to the Blue Jays.

“The consistency of his at-bats, the discipline within the at-bats, the contact rates with power, the defensive versatility," said general manager Ross Atkins on Thursday. "We’re excited about the overall athleticism, the person that we have a long history with knowing him back to his high school days and having very good Vanderbilt ties and relationships there. We feel like we got to know the person and the teammate and the overall talent very well. We’re extremely excited to have the potential to add him to this organization.”

Following the pick, Corbin broke down Martin’s swing on MLB Network and compared him to Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon.

“They’ve got similar operating systems in the fact that they really get their belly button low,” Corbin said, “and you see how Austin brings his eyes closer to the zone to better see the ball, which is so important.”

This selection of Martin represented a change from the Blue Jays' recent Draft strategies. Under general manager Ross Atkins and president Mark Shapiro, Toronto had gravitated toward right-handed power pitchers, most often from the college ranks, with its top positional picks, such as shortstop Logan Warmoth in 2017, being classified as "safer" selections. With Martin, the Blue Jays can dream of superstar upside as they envision a lineup with him batting alongside the new faces of the franchise that arrived at the Major League level in '19.

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