Blue Jays take big swing at Van­der­bilt prospect

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - ROB LON­G­LEY rlon­g­ley@post­media.com

On his way to be­ing touted as one of the best pure hit­ters avail­able in Ma­jor League Base­ball’s 2020 draft, Austin Martin de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a ter­rific con­tact hit­ter with a side or­der of power.

When he fell to the fifth pick of the 2020 am­a­teur draft on Wed­nes­day night, the Toronto Blue Jays were ready to take a big swing at the 21-year-old from Van­der­bilt Univer­sity.

And per­haps add a steal to the stats line while they’re at it.

A ver­sa­tile in­fielder/out­fielder, Martin was ranked sec­ond en­ter­ing the draft by MLB Pipe­line and was sur­pris­ingly still avail­able for the Jays, who were mak­ing their high­est pick since se­lect­ing Ver­non Wells at the same No. 5 spot in 1997.

Jays scout­ing di­rec­tor Shane Far­rell must have been tick­led at what was un­fold­ing as he over­saw his first big league draft.

“We were a lit­tle sur­prised,” Far­rell said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters on Wed­nes­day night. “It re­ally started to shake up at picks two and three, but we were cer­tainly pre­pared to make that se­lec­tion. We iden­ti­fied Austin as high-end tal­ent and we were for­tu­nate enough for him to be still avail­able when we picked.”

In nab­bing Martin, the Jays have yet an­other ver­sa­tile young stud to join a pow­er­ful, promis­ing young core headed by Bo Bichette, Vlad Guer­rero Jr. and Ca­van Big­gio.

“I’m ready for what­ever they want to throw at me,” Martin told MLB Net­work when it was sug­gested that he could play at any num­ber of po­si­tions in Toronto. “I’m re­ally ex­cited.”

Like any high pick out of col­lege, Martin will be keen on ad­vanc­ing as quickly as pos­si­ble to make it to the big leagues. He’s also en­thused about re­unit­ing with a for­mer team­mate and fel­low Florida high school prod­uct.

“I’m ex­cited (about be­ing drafted by the Jays),” Martin said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things. What a lot of peo­ple don’t know is I’m a for­mer team­mate of Bo Bichette when we were younger. It will be cool to get up there with him again.”

Martin played a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions at Vandy, one of the top NCAA programs that has be­come a fac­tory at pro­duc­ing elite MLB tal­ent. In 2019, the Jack­sonville, Fla., na­tive had 105 hits in 65 games with 10 homers, 85 walks and 46 RBI.

Even with an aborted col­lege sea­son in 2020, the Jays were well-versed in Martin’s abil­ity. Scouts fol­lowed him in his high school years in Jack­sonville and even closer un­der the glare in Nashville with the high-pro­file Vandy pro­gram.

“He’s a well above aver­age hit­ter,” Far­rell said. “This is a guy who man­ages the strike zone re­ally well. Ex­tremely high con­tract rates, some­body we think has the abil­ity to grow into more power down the road but just re­ally good bat to ball skills and abil­ity to man­age the strike zone.”

The shakeup at the top was cer­tainly a sur­prise in this dra­mat­i­cally re­tooled draft. Blud­geoned from 40 rounds to five in re­ac­tion to the eco­nomic tug of the COVID-19 pan­demic, the Jays won’t be able to take full ad­van­tage of the 2019 tanked sea­son.

They may make up for it with the good for­tune of a po­ten­tial su­per­star pick in the first round, how­ever. So how did Martin make his way to the Jays and gen­eral man­ager Ross Atkins?

As ex­pected, the Detroit Tigers opened with con­sen­sus No. 1 Spencer Torkel­son but the lowly Bal­ti­more Ori­oles started the may­hem by tak­ing out­fielder Heston Kjerstad with the sec­ond pick. Pitch­ers Max Meyer (Mar­lins) and Asa Lacy (Roy­als) went next, open­ing the door for an elite-level tal­ent that was ex­pected to go higher.

Martin played most of his NCAA ca­reer at third base but saw time at sev­eral po­si­tions, in­clud­ing a dozen games in cen­tre field in the abridged 2020 cam­paign.

Like many or­ga­ni­za­tions, the Jays covet such ver­sa­til­ity, but it will be his bat that pro­pels Martin through the Jays’ mi­nor league sys­tem.

“He’s one of the most com­pet­i­tive kids I’ve seen,” Van­der­bilt hit­ting coach Mike Bax­ter told Cbss­ports.com. “He has the nat­u­ral de­sire to win and to beat you. He does a re­ally good job of know­ing how to har­ness that, es­pe­cially from an of­fen­sive stand­point.

“It’s a big chal­lenge for hit­ters, but he’s shown a re­ally good abil­ity to do that.”

Martin has also proven to be a win­ner at a high-end pro­gram. Bat­ting lead­off for the Com­modores in 2019, Martin led the

SEC with a .392 aver­age and .486 on-base per­cent­age as his team went on to cap­ture the Col­lege World Se­ries.

“Austin’s per­for­mance will dic­tate that,” Far­rell said when asked how quick he might progress to join the young tal­ent cur­rently on the Jays ros­ter. “I’m anx­ious and look­ing for­ward to the day that we are able to get him in uni­form and am ex­cited to watch him play.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS/FILES

Toronto draft pick Austin Martin had a .392 aver­age with Van­der­bilt in 2019 as they won the Col­lege World Se­ries.

Jays GM Ross Atkins

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