The 2020 MLB Draft proceeded according to expectation for precisely one pick, with the Detroit Tigers taking Spencer Torkelson first overall. Then Baltimore threw a curveball, and the biggest beneficiary may turn out to be their division rivals.
Rather than take the player who was second in most rankings and first for some in Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin, the Orioles went down the board and presumably underslot for Heston Kjerstad. Miami and Kansas City opted for college right-hander Max Meyer and lefty Asa Lacy, receptively, and leaving Martin right in the Blue Jays’s lap where they ended his unexpected slide.
Indeed, just an hour beforehand it seemed improbable that Martin would fall past the first two or maybe three picks, for the simple reason that he was considered the top pure hitter available in the draft. If you’re going to pick one carrying tool, it’s the hit tool. And on top of that, he projects to play some sort of premium defensive position.
A highly rated player out of high school in Florida, Martin follows in a long line of Vanderbilt commits whose development takes off in Nashville and end up elite draft picks three years later. Indeed, it’s the second straight year a Commodore hailing from Florida was the 5th overall pick, after J.J. Bleday last year.
Martin stepped right into the lineup for Vanderbilt as a freshman, not just holding his own but hitting an impressive .338/.452/.414 in 273 PA, with notably strong plate discipline (13% BB rate, 17% K rate) if little power output.
That was merely a launching point for 2019, in which Martin was a catalyst for the College World Series champions. His .392/.486/.604 line speaks for itself, but what’s even more impressive is what he did in SEC conference play. Often, huge college hitting lines are padded by beating up on weaker early season opponents and midweek games, but Martin hit .424 in 28 SEC games, against the best pitching in college baseball. While continuing to walk 12% of the time, his strikeout rate was cut back to 10.5%.
Martin started similarly in 2020, a .377/.507/.660 line against unremarkable non-conference competition. The hitting ability at the highest level of college baseball is well established, with gap power. Defensively, he’s moved around the diamond, playing 2B and 3B last year, expected to man short this year but ending up mostly in centre this year apparently due to issues with his throwing and arm (his weakest tool).
As noted in the brief profile earlier today, there’s potential for him to be a Swiss army knife type utility player, moving around the diamond as needed, with Ben Zobrist type comp (keeping reality in mind; Zobrist had had a Hall of Very Good type career; Martin would be a greatpick if had half that career). The Jays announced him as a shortstop, and there’s really no reason not to see what he can do, though that could be complicated if he’s so advanced offensively he pushes his way quickly upward.
This selection sets up what will surely be an interesting negotiation. Martin is represented by Scott Boras, who will surely push for an overslot bonus given that Martin was expected to go higher (slot is $6.18-million). Working in his favour in terms of leverage is that Martin could return to Vanderbilt as a junior in 2021.
Moreover, given the depth of this draft and fortune of Martin galling to them, the Jays would be unlikely to do as well or better with the 6th pick next year. The ability to go 5% over their pool with just an overage tax means the Jays could pay about $6.66-million without requiring savings elsewhere. On the flip side of course, with all the uncertainty in the world, the Jays could essentially dare him to turn down over $6-million. Who knows next season will look like, or even what the draft will look like financially.
All in all, it’s hard to see it as a coup that the Jays were able to land Martin picking 5th,with draft analysts universally effusive of the value. Keith Law ranked him as the top player on his board, rating him as having the best chance of being an offensive superstar and would plan on starting him in AA next year.
An interesting parallel:
Don't get me wrong - I like Lacy a lot, and would have been thrilled to get him 30 minutes ago.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) June 10, 2020
But Austin Martin falling to #5 reminds me of Anthony Rendon in 2011, where teams (including KC!) passed on the best college position player because they overthought things.
It’s not a perfect comparison, since Rendon slid due to serious ankle and shoulder injuries, and there are some question marks around Martin’s arm. The striking similarity is that like 2011, the 2020 draft was deep at the that without a firm pecking order. If a player starts unexpectedly sliding, teams might be prepared or willing to pivot, and that may well be what happened tonight with Martin.
Martin becomes the third player drafted fifth overall in the June draft in franchise history. Hopefully, his career ends up more like that of Vernon Wells (1997) than that of Matt Williams (1981; the right handed pitcher who had only a cup of coffee, not the slugger who ranks 75th overall in career home runs).
Inquiring minds (well, Minor Leaguer) would like to know: For how many Aston Martins will Austin Martin sign?
This poll is closed
Less than 35 (at US$175K per base model)
36 to 40
More than 40
Screw the base model