The 2019 baseball season has been an exercise in misery for Mariners fans, but as the team sinks lower and lower, the possibility of getting a true blue-chip draft pick—the kind the Mariners had to trade Edwin Díaz in order to get, the kind the Mariners haven’t had since the dark days of the early 2010s—shines ever more brightly. As of this writing, the Mariners remain in the sixth draft position, although after being swept by the Angels this past weekend, they’ve managed to cut the Marlins’ hold on the fifth pick down to five games, having left the .450s behind (farewell, Giants and Mets!) and headed straight for a .400 winning percentage, with an eye on the .370s (Hola, Miami! Bonjour, Toronto!). Fun fact: if the draft order was determined by run differential, the Mariners would pick third. It’s pretty safe to say no one will catch Detroit and Baltimore in terribleness, but the Mariners have a good shot at gunning for spots 3-6 depending on just how terribly they play down the stretch. Vamos Miami!
The good news—if there is good news in any of this—is that this draft appears to be much more stacked than last year’s. While much can, and will, change between now and draft day, we created this series to familiarize you with some of the top names in the draft to help downtrodden fans dream on better days. In case you missed it, so far we’ve covered two players considered to be at the top of the 2020 draft: ASU slugger Spencer Torkelson and Georgia fireballer Emerson Hancock.
Next up is Vanderbilt 3B Austin Martin, who slots in behind Hancock and Torkelson at both MLB and FanGraphs. If the Mariners seem like they’re angling hard for the third overall pick, they could maybe be excused; Martin is a Jerry Dipoto dream prospect who walked more than he struck out this year, is a menace on the bases, plays a position at which the Mariners are woefully thin as an organization, and is fresh off a power breakout year.
May we have your attention please.— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) February 16, 2019
Austin Martin of the @VandyBoys is a homer away from the cycle. It's the 4th inning. #MLB4 pic.twitter.com/ECHLfOJazK
Martin had an impressive freshman campaign, scooping up all the major freshman awards, and hit double-digit doubles. As a sophomore, he turned the dial way up on his power, hitting even more doubles, a trio of triples, and—most impressively—going from one home run hit to ten. He won the SEC batting title with an average of .406, and was a shining star during Vanderbilt’s run to an eventual NCAA championship
Martin has a quick, compact, right-handed swing that’s built to make contact:
Great swing by Austin Martin. #2020MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/PvJTzXnFQc— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) June 25, 2019
While Martin does make a ton of contact and can come meet the pitch where it is, he’s also able to elevate and celebrate; watch his front elbow point to the sky:
Take this swing from Austin Martin and inject it into my veins. pic.twitter.com/9lS9hKWlp7— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) July 9, 2019
Cheat code: Austin Martin.— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) June 16, 2019
On the bases, Martin is a constant threat to steal and a savvy baserunner to boot:
Austin Martin is a ninja pic.twitter.com/L9ca5AijRu— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) June 9, 2019
Defensively, Martin has played a few different positions thanks to Vanderbilt being stacked, but he typically plays SS/3B, where he’s drawn praise from scouts for his range and footwork, but some have questioned his arm strength (he was also plagued by arm injuries in HS) and wonder what his eventual defensive home will be.
He also has a bit of a personality; he has a little dance he does to his walkup song (“Loaded” by Lil Uzi Vert)
Austin Martin with The Swagger..........— Brent Carden (@dbc5361) February 25, 2018
But more seriously, Martin seems to be the kind of team-centered, high-character player the Mariners covet. He chose to attend Vanderbilt instead of turning pro after being drafted in the 5th round by the Dodgers in 2017 because he wanted to be part of a team: “I just really love team baseball,” Martin said. “In the minor leagues, it’s a job. I just wanted to play in that team atmosphere for a few more years.” Vandy’s legendary Coach Corbin says he predicted before Martin even showed up on campus that he’d be a success due to his “unique gamesmanship.”
So the question, as always: will he be available when the Mariners select? Both MLB and FanGraphs have Martin ranked third overall; Baseball America doesn’t have him in their top 10 (they have a different Martin, Casey, who Joe will be covering later in this series). Bleacher Report has him outside their top 10, and CBS left him off a brief 2020 preview. Martin’s star is shining especially brightly right now with his powerful performance in the CWS, but the question mark with Martin is how much a team believes in his defense, specifically his ability to stick at short or even third. If he improves on his power surge from last year significantly, finding him a defensive home will matter less, but it’s something to monitor next season (and if you have an opportunity to catch any of the Team USA games this summer, you can see him there). The Mariners, who are strong believers in their player development program, might be more willing to take a chance on a player with some defensive question marks than some other teams in this loaded draft.