The 2019 draft was simply a prelude. It was the opener - a warmup act. It wasn’t top-heavy. It wasn’t deep... anywhere, really. The collegiate talent was thin. The prep bats were thinner. Sure, there were some high school arms that had some shimmer, but, really, on paper, it wasn’t a show you’d buy tickets to twice.
It was, by all accounts, an Avril Lavigne concert.
2020, however, is shaping up to be one of the most dynamic classes in recent memory. In fact, for my money, the class sizes up favorably to that of the 2013 pool. That class featured some decorated collegiate talent in Jon Gray, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant and Hunter Renfroe. It also was absolutely loaded with premier prep studs like Clint Frazier, Austin Meadows, Tim Anderson, and our very own JP Crawford.
Frankly, the 2020 prep class is so stacked with frontline talent, Seattle may be in the drivers seat to land a franchise-altering player.
But in the collegiate ranks, just down the road from Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers, the Arkansas Razorbacks are grooming up a pretty sensational talent of their own in stud infielder Casey Martin.
At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Martin isn’t the most intimidating presence on the diamond, but he more than makes up for it with tools galore. Martin represents one of the best power-speed combinations in the 2020 draft. He’s currently a four-tool player with a still developing hit tool.
In two years at Arkansas, Martin has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup, slashing .329/.402/.535 with 28 dingers. His sophomore campaign wasn’t quite the banner year his freshman year ended up being, as he slashed just .286/.364/.584.
Martin generates enormous swing speed through a powerful core and strong lower half. He’s had a tendency to get pull-happy at times, though his swing plane helps eliminate rollovers and weak fly balls. Martin employs some of the same mechanics as the aforementioned Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant, though he obviously lacks the size Bryant possesses. His swing is more tuned for line-drive and gap power as opposed to the uppercut motion that Bryant works with. But again, with the swing speed generated, Martin gets exit velocities that have no choice but to leave just about any stadium he’s hitting in.
Case in point are the 17 home runs he’s hit at Baum-Walker Stadium, a venue notorious for knocking down fly balls hit to left field, much like that of the Travelers’ Dickey-Stephens Park.
While impressive at the plate, it’s his work in the field that has Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn in awe.
“He just has so much range in the field,” Van Horn said. “He may have the best range in the country of anyone.”
Indeed, Martin can pick it with the best of em.
Talent evaluators are in love with the whole package.
In an interview with Carlos Collazo of Baseball America, it became clear Martin deserves to be at, or near the top of most draft boards.
“It’s still pretty early to tell who’s going to slot into the Top 10 next season, but Martin is definitely right up there,” Collazo said. “He’s got the arm, he can run, and the pop to be an impact player at the next level.”
The tools are there in spades. In fact, the profile is similar to another decorated SEC shortstop from recent memory.
Player B, as you may recognize is Martin.
Player A on the other hand is 2-time All-Star Alex Bregman.
Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, endured a similar collegiate career as Martin has. A tooled-up SEC shortstop with positional versatility, Bregman finished his career at LSU with a .337/.409/.514 slash with 21 home runs.
Now, obviously, the K% for Martin is vastly different than that of Bregman at this same point in their careers. Frankly, the hit tool has been the only question mark on Martin from the time he stepped foot on the Arkansas campus. If the hit tool advances in 2020 like many suspect it may, Martin will firmly find himself in the discussion as a top five pick, if not higher.
“He’s one of the best hitters in the college class,” Collazo said. “Great production with power.”
So why does Martin make sense for the Mariners?
Well, for starters, he profiles quite well at the hot corner given his range and arm strength. Third base is certainly a position in question for the future of the team. Franchise mainstay Kyle Seager will likely be a free agent after the 2021 season so long as the team doesn’t pick up his $15 million option for 2022. Martin should, in theory, be ready to contribute toward the back-half of 2022.
As it stands now, there’s some risk in Martin’s profile as the K-rate is higher than you’d like to see from an advanced collegiate bat. If he proves he can make more consistent contact at the plate, he has the makings of a true 5-tool infielder with star potential.