Versatility key for top hitting prospect Martin

March 2nd, 2021

DUNEDIN -- Nothing about 's first year as a professional ballplayer has been normal.

Taken by the Blue Jays fifth overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, lower than the Vanderbilt standout was projected to go, Martin has been thrown into the deep end. With no Minor League play in '20, Martin was instead at Toronto's alternate training site, facing pitchers who were Triple-A and Major League caliber. This spring, he’s right back at it, in camp as a non-roster invitee and facing pitchers more advanced than what he’d be seeing in the Minors.

For the right prospect, this can be a good thing. The Blue Jays feel that’s what Martin is, of course, as the No. 2 prospect in the system, who, along with No. 3-ranked Jordan Groshans, represents that next wave of top-end infield talent coming through the pipeline. Martin has impressed the Blue Jays at each unique stop along the way so far, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some traditional development time ahead for Martin.

The first question, on the surface level, is where Martin will play.

“My answer now is I’m a shortstop until I’m told otherwise,” Martin said Tuesday. “So yes, I’m going to continue to bounce around and take reps everywhere else, but as of right now, I’m a shortstop.”

Martin started at shortstop on Monday at TD Ballpark and made two errors early, one throwing and one fielding. On his first, Martin charged in on a playable ground ball, but double-clutched before throwing wide of first baseman Rowdy Tellez. Like any prospect of his caliber, though, Martin quickly reminded people of his talents.

A couple innings later, Martin leapt into the air and fully extended to rob the Pirates' Wilmer Difo of a hit on a scorching line drive, before falling back to the ground. The fundamental errors need to be tidied up, but it’s only early March. Martin understands that these mistakes will happen along the way, and he said early Tuesday that he’d be right back out on the infield later in the day making sure they don’t happen again.

Manager Charlie Montoyo will soon have Martin taking some fly balls in the outfield. This has always been part of the plan given Martin's athleticism, but it also introduces the question of whether it’s better to have a top young prospect focus heavily on one position or move around. It depends on the player, of course, but Martin embraces it.

“Versatility is a key aspect of my game, and it’s part of my identity as a baseball player now,” Martin said. “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 doesn’t need to look far to find examples of this on his own team.

Cavan Biggio has played all over for the Blue Jays, and that’s expected to continue in 2021, even as he adopts third base as his new primary home. A couple of days ago, Biggio approached Martin about this.

“He asked me, ‘Where do you want to play?’” Martin recalled. “I told him, 'I’m a ballplayer. Just put me on the field. Put me in the lineup and put me on the field.' We kind of share that similar mindset. He encouraged me to continue to work on that and to stay on that path of staying versatile, because he understands how his role on the team has helped.”

There are plenty of moving pieces here as Martin’s development starts to shift back toward a more traditional path with Minor League play this season. Whether he sticks at one position or bounces around remains to be seen, but an openness to the concept is a fine first step so early in the process.

What we do know about Martin coming out of college ball is that he can hit. That’s his strongest tool, and his approach to hitting can tell you all you need to know about the 21-year-old. Ballplayers love to say that they’re “keeping things simple,” but Martin lives by that at the plate.

Even as he’s faced older and more advanced pitching, his approach hasn’t changed much. A self-described “old-school” player, Martin doesn’t lean on technology as some others do. He knows the numbers and knows pitchers’ tendencies, but he doesn’t like to overload himself to the point that he’s not reacting naturally at the plate. If he sees a pitch he likes, he swings. It’s not that complicated.

The defensive side of this equation might be a little more complicated, but there’s time to sort this out. The hype Martin has generated is warranted, and the steady waves of young talent washing up in Toronto have left fans understandably eager for that next star, but a little patience will be required as the Blue Jays and Martin work to develop his exceptional talents.