Martin headlines Twins prospects in AFL
When you’re taken really high in the Draft, say the top 10 in the first round, there’s probably good reason to think you’re going to stick around with the organization that drafted you for a while.
Austin Martin, the Blue Jays’ top pick in the 2020 Draft, was taken No. 5 overall out of Vanderbilt. Toronto had sent him straight to Double-A for his first full season and he was in the midst of a decent, albeit not super impactful, year when he found out he was traded to the Twins in the José Berríos deal at the 2021 Trade deadline, something he was not prepared to hear.
“It definitely caught me off guard just because throughout that whole week of the trade, there were guys on my team hearing from their agents saying, ‘Hey, there's a possibility you’re going to move,’” Martin said. “So the day that I got the phone call, it caught me off guard for sure. But the transition has been so smooth and easy going from Toronto to the Twins because as soon as soon as I got traded, as soon as I set foot in a Twins affiliate, I was welcomed with open arms.”
The only thing that really disrupted that transition was an injury suffered in early July. The Twins' No. 12 prospect suffered a torn UCL in his left arm, but it didn’t require surgery. He rehabbed it for about a month and a half and was able to get back on the field in mid-August. He’s with the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League making up for some lost at-bats, feeling better than ever.
It’s shown in his performance to date. After a three-hit game on Saturday at Chase Field, Martin has hit .500 (16-for-32) with a homer, nine RBIs and five stolen bases over his first eight games. He’s hit in seven straight after going 0-for-4 in the opener and has three or more hits in four of his last five games.
One of the biggest things Martin is working on, other than simply getting more reps, is impacting the ball more. He’s always had an advanced approach at the plate with very impressive bat-to-ball skills, but hasn’t been able to drive the ball consistently so far as a pro, as evidenced by his .349 career slugging percentage. So it’s been encouraging to see him doing so a little more this fall and he feels the way the Twins have been helping him get there has contributed to that improvement.
“I think most organizations want to teach their hitters to do damage and just improve on all that, but I think that the resources and stuff that we have over in the Twins, it makes the information a lot easier to receive and to interpret and understand,” Martin said.
The other question surrounding the 23-year-old is just where he fits defensively long-term. He spent most of 2022 playing shortstop, a spot he hadn’t really played regularly since high school, though he’s continued to see some time in the outfield, including this fall, to keep that option open. Wherever he plays, Martin knows this Fall League experience is going to be an important one for him.
“There’s really no preference for me specifically, as long as I’m in the lineup, I’m fine, honestly,” he said about his defensive home. “The thing I looked forward to the most [in the AFL] is just the experience, being able to be around so much talent every single day. There’s just no way I can be out here and not leave a better player.”
Twins hitters in the Fall League
Edouard Julien, 2B (No. 14): Julien hit .300 and led all Minor League second basemen with his .931 OPS while also drawing 98 walks in Double-A. He’s continuing to hit well this fall, still picking up a lot of free passes and working on his defense at second base.
Alex Isola, C: A 29th-round pick out of Texas Christian in 2019, Isola missed a good chunk of the Double-A season this year with a foot injury. He’s making up for some of those lost plate appearances while mostly focusing on his receiving and overall defense behind the plate.
Twins pitchers in the Fall League
Denny Bentley, LHP: A late-round pick out of Howard College in 2018, Bentley is a left-handed reliever who reached Double-A in 2022. He misses a ton of bats (11.8 K/9 in his career), but struggled with finding the strike zone when he reached Wichita (6.2 BB/9), so he’s focusing mostly on his command with Glendale.
Jon Olsen, RHP: A UCLA product drafted in 2018, Olsen missed some action in 2022, spending most of his time with High-A Cedar Rapids. The 25-year-old right-hander is working on adding a bigger sweeping slider to his arsenal.
Francis Peguero, RHP: Peguero came to the Twins this past March from the Reds, along with Sonny Gray. A back issue forced him out of action for an extended period of time, but he’s shown off arm strength and decent command. What he needs is a better slider to miss more bats, and he’s in the Fall League working on improving the pitch’s shape and velocity.
Ryan Shreve, RHP: The 2019 draftee spent the year pitching almost exclusively out of the Cedar Rapids bullpen. He has the chance to be a sinker-slider kind of reliever and he’s working on adding depth to that sinker this fall.