Baltimore Orioles: The Case for Drafting Austin Martin
The MLB Draft starts Wednesday night, and the Baltimore Orioles hold the #2 pick, and with the highest competitive balance pick, they have the most bonus pool money.
In a deep draft with plenty to spend, Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias may be tempted to get creative, but instead he should take the best available player: Vanderbilt 3B/CF Austin Martin.
Assuming the Tigers take Arizona State 1B Spenser Torkelson first overall, the Orioles naturally are in position to take the second best player.
Most baseball insiders view that person to be Martin, who MLB Pipeline calls the “best pure hitter” in this class, a designation very difficult to pass on. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel even ranks Martin ahead of Torkelson, meaning the Orioles could get the very best player.
On tape or in the box scores, it is easy to see why Martin is regarded so highly. The vocal leader of one of college baseball’s best programs, Martin has a competitiveness matched by few others his age. Vandy coach Tim Corbin says that Michael Jordan’s fighting spirit reminds him of Martin, high praise coming from the guy who managed David Price and Walker Buehler.
His numbers tell much the same story. On the way to winning the College World Series in 2019, Martin slashed an impressive .392/.486/.604 for an OPS of 1.091. In sixteen games this year his line was even better, hitting .377/.507/.660 for an OPS of 1.168. After taking Adley Rutschman, the Orioles can start a good trend of drafting high-floor champions.
Martin’s OPS is not the only indication he has improved each year at Vanderbilt. In his freshman season he hit just one home run and no triples, but those both jumped to ten home runs and four triples as a sophomore, providing most of his 200-point gain in OPS. This year before the stoppage, his slugging percentage went up even more due nine of his twenty hits going for extra bases, very encouraging for a speedy up-the-middle player.
Like every amateur prospect, Martin does have some questions. Despite the gains in home runs, his power tool does not stand out. There are plenty of infielders who only develop power as they grow into their bodies and adapt their swing- Xander Bogaerts didn’t hit twenty home runs until his third full season. Even if the power doesn’t shine through, there is nothing wrong with Martin being the next Whit Merrifield, the AL’s hit leader each of the last two years.
Scouts are also concerned that Martin did not play shortstop at all in college because that points to him not having as strong a range. This really doesn’t concern me because centerfield is also a prime position where he played well this year, and good defense at third is also important, where he mostly played last year. With a thin crop at the hot corner currently in the system, I think the Orioles would benefit from keeping Martin at third instead of sticking him somewhere else.
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- Draft Round Table: Who Should the Orioles Take First?
Even with Martin’s great skillset, the other options are tempting for a reason. Texas A&M left Asa Lacy is the best pitcher in the draft with three above-average pitches, something hard to find at the college level. Would I be upset getting the top arm available? Of course not. More intriguing is if the Orioles go with an underslot pick in New Mexico State 2B Nick Gonzales to spend more on a pitcher at #30 and/or #39.
Would I be upset getting a marginally worse player for a better one later? Of course not.
Lacy and Gonzales are both good options, but they are not the best option. Lacy has command issues, and the pitcher they want at 30 might be taken by then. I like reliability, and there is nothing less reliable in sports than the MLB Draft. I think Martin has the highest floor of anyone in this year’s class, and I’ll take that over a riskier player with a higher ceiling every single time.
Mike Elias does not need to do anything fancy and try to outsmart the rest of the league. The smart thing to do is take the best available player, and that is Austin Martin.