The Baltimore Orioles held on to Richie Martin in 2019 and still have faith in his ability, which means you shouldn’t give up either.
To the casual baseball fan, they might not know what the Rule 5 draft is all about. And to the casual Baltimore Orioles fan, they might not have known who Richie Martin was at the start of 2019 or where he came from.
The Rule 5 draft is an opportunity to acquire a few players from teams with a surplus in young talent. Theoretically, this should help distribute the wealth of talent across organizations.
So what’s the catch? A drafted player is immediately promoted to the major league roster where he must remain for the entire season, or else be returned to their original team. If a team retains that player, they gain permanent control of his contract.
The Orioles did just that when they drafted Richie Martin from the Oakland Athletics farm system. After earning a roster spot in spring training, he started 89 games for the O’s at shortstop, splitting time with the now-departed Jonathan Villar. It proved daunting for Martin as he struggled defensively with -5 Infield Outs Above Average (look at how the Orioles and other infielders performed here).
The offense was not any prettier, finishing with a .208 BA and a .252 wOBA. Overall, Martin ended a frustrating season with a WAR of -0.6, per Baseball Reference.
It’s easy to understand why Martin didn’t excel last summer. Before the move to Baltimore, he never saw a pitch above AA baseball. From 2015 to 2018, Martin bounced around Oakland affiliates from Class A Short-Season up to Class AA.
We can excuse him for inexperience at the major league level, however, the clock is ticking. Martin is no longer a young buck at 25 years old as he is approaching the “prime years” in a player’s career. He will have to make significant improvements in 2020.
The 2019 Orioles were bad enough to watch and Martin is just one of many easy targets to point to for an explanation. Numerous question marks loom over him and I bet you have your doubts about his capability. One thing remains clear though: Elias kept Martin because he still sees potential.
POTENTIAL is the keyword here because we don’t know if Richie can be successful in the majors. Last year, he was unripe fruit thrown into a big league blender. Thankfully, the recent signing of Jose Iglesias allows a more natural development for Martin to ripen as a player at the AAA and MLB level.
In order to appreciate what he is already doing well, we must dig below the surface level statistics. Any fan can say he’s got great speed, but just how fast is he? According to Baseball Savant, Martin ranks 18th in the MLB in sprint speed at 29.5 ft/s. He is the fifth-fastest shortstop in the league and is faster than 97.5 percent of all players in the MLB.
This translated to an efficient 10/11 stolen bags in 2019. If he can improve his on-base percentage, then we can expect those SB to jump next season. Also worth noting is with impressive speed comes the added bonus of plus fielding range at Shortstop.
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His defense was not something to be proud of in 2019, however it was not the worst among Orioles infielders. Martin finished with a -5 Infield Outs Above Average while Rio Ruiz had -6 and Jonathan Villar had -12. Still, this is a vital part of his game that needs improvement in the future.
His scouting report, per Baseball Savant, values Martin’s arm and glove as his best attributes alongside speed. We can expect to see massive improvement in the field this year coming from experience and mentoring from defensive guru Jose Iglesias, who scored 12 Infield Outs Above Average in 2019, ninth in the league among all infielders.
While his fielding was poor, his hitting was worse, there is a spark of hope. Martin finished the season on a high note with a September batting average of .379 and OPS of 1.060. Never mind the fact he received fewer at-bats in the last month, this is the version of Richie Martin we want to see more often. If nothing else, he proved there is something hidden somewhere in that 5 foot 11 inch frame of his.
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He has a lot on his plate for the 2020 season, but I believe we’ll see a new and improved Richie Martin by the end of next year. Hopefully, he reaches full potential and becomes an integral part of the next winning Baltimore Orioles team.