Inbox: Can Twins' Martin get back on track in AFL?

October 6th, 2022

The Arizona Fall League is off and running and we’ve got coverage of all of it, from the first pitch on Monday all the way to the Championship Game on Nov. 12. I’m headed out to Arizona for two weeks of games starting this coming Monday and I can’t wait. It’s always a favorite time of year for me (and all of us at MLB Pipeline, if I can be so bold to speak for my colleagues).

With the desert on my mind, I’m kicking off this week’s MLB Pipeline Inbox with a pair of AFL-related questions before moving on to other topics.

If Nick Gonzales does well again in the AFL does it hold the same weight as last year? Does it prove that struggles in spring were injury related? -- @ballsandgutters

We tackled this one on this week’s MLB Pipeline Podcast, so check out the more detailed answer there. But in a nutshell, it won’t hold the same weight. Last year, Gonzales was coming off of his first full season of pro ball, one that was interrupted by injury and featured a slow start. In the second half of 2021, he might have been the best pure hitter in the Minors and when that carried over to the AFL (.383/.483/.549), it cemented his reputation as one of the best advanced bats in the 2020 Draft class while facing a higher level of competition than he saw with High-A Greensboro.

This year was also interrupted by injury -- he missed two months of the Double-A season -- so this Fall League will be good for him to again make up for some lost at-bats. Like last year, he did finish the season swinging the bat well. I think this time around in the AFL, it’s almost expected that he should perform well. We try (and don’t always succeed) to not put too much weight on any Fall League experience given the hitting-friendly nature of the league and the small sample size. So if Gonzales hits well again (3-for-9 so far), it will be more about him carrying it over to Triple-A and the big leagues in 2023 than any numbers he puts up.

And as for your second question, it’s hard to know what causes what. It’s possible Gonzales is just a slow starter, but we don’t know because injuries got in the way two years in a row. I think 2023 is going to be a big year for him to truly show what he can do for a full season.

What can Austin Martin do to get back on track in the AFL? -- @NoDakTwinsFan

Speaking of advanced college hitters from the 2020 Draft, Martin went two picks in front of Gonzales at No. 5 overall to the Blue Jays after a fantastic career at Vanderbilt that saw him finish with a .368/.474/.532 line. It hasn’t gone nearly as well as a pro, first with Toronto and then with the Twins for the last year-plus, after he came to Minnesota in the José Berríos trade.

The elite-level contact skills are still very much there. He has struck out in just 16.5 percent of his professional plate appearances in his first two seasons, and just 13.2 percent this past season. He knows the strike zone, with a 13.1 percent career walk rate. What he hasn’t done is find a way to drive the baseball, as evidenced by his .349 slugging percentage.

And that’s the biggest question with Martin at this point: Can he learn to do that? I don’t think anyone is expecting him to grow into a major power hitter at this point, but he does have to show he can impact the ball enough to be a productive big leaguer. I was in Twins camp early on in Spring Training and the player development staff was encouraged by some adjustments they had helped him make with the load on his swing to unlock a cleaner path to the ball. But Martin never truly felt comfortable with it. When he came back from his wrist injury, he reverted back to his more comfortable mechanics, and he was swinging the bat better at the very end of the season. The interruption of the injury certainly didn’t help.

The hope is that carries over to his Fall League performance, but I think the best hope is for him to become a player who hits for average with high OBP but who never reaches the power projections some had for him coming out of college. If he focuses on that, while continuing to work on being a versatile defender, that could help him get to the big leagues soon and you never know what adjustments he might make naturally as he evolves as a hitter.

Between James Wood and Elijah Green, who do you think will end next season higher on MLB Top 100? -- @NatsFarm

It’s a good question for Nationals fans, and the organization, to have to try and answer, right? Currently, we have Green, the club’s top pick at No. 5 overall in the 2022 Draft, at No. 28, with Wood, acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto trade, at No. 34 on our Top 100. In many ways, the two young outfielders are similar, with ridiculous raw tools, unbelievable power potential, speed despite their size and the potential to play up the middle defensively.

Perhaps Green has a slight edge tools-wise, with better speed and potentially more of a chance to stay in center, but we might be splitting hairs. And of course, we have a year of Wood’s outstanding performance to look at in terms of how the tools might play. I recently did a story on who might be the No. 1 prospect in baseball at this point next year, and there were folks on Twitter who were not happy I didn’t include Wood in that conversation.

He certainly could be. So could Green, if those tools play right out of the gate. I think it’s a tossup who will rank higher a year from now, but I’ll give Wood and his year of experience under his belt a very small edge.

Do you think Arizona’s 2019 Draft will surpass other classes with so many top 100 picks? -- @spencer_ogara

The easy answer would be just to say that we have to wait and see what they all turn into and move on, but that’s no fun. I did go and look back at Jim Callis’ annual “who had the best Draft” story that he writes immediately after the Draft is over, and in 2019, he did pick the D-backs.

That’s not surprising since they did have four first-round picks and seven of the first 75 selections. And any class that starts with Corbin Carroll is going to end up with positive reviews, right? Their first pick of that Draft is just getting started, but he’s going to be very good for a very long time. Three other players have also impacted the big leagues already, no small feat considering the 2020 Minor League season didn’t happen, with Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry, all college arms, getting time in the Majors. I think Blake Walston has the chance to be a very good lefty starter as well.

So that’s a pretty good crop right there, regardless of how they ranked on our Draft list. Whether it ends up being the best remains to be seen. The Orioles are obviously off to a good start, just with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson alone, but Kyle Stowers has also reached Baltimore. And I’d watch out for the Braves’ haul. Shea Langeliers is in Oakland now, but he’s a big league starter. And Atlanta’s scouting department clearly did a terrific job later on in getting both Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom in the third and 11th rounds.