Twins

Austin Martin Gives Minnesota's Lineup Something It Was Missing

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Tyler Glasnow tied a career-high with 14 strikeouts on 88 pitches against the Minnesota Twins. Five Twins batters mustered a hit off Glasnow. But Austin Martin had two, both doubles, in Minnesota’s 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. “[Glasnow] was better than all of us today — except Austin,” Ryan Jeffers said. “Props to him.”

Martin’s unique approach allowed him to see Glasnow’s pitches when LA’s $136.5 million pitcher was throwing smoke. Martin has oscillated between hitting for contact and power in the minor leagues. But he’s settled in as a speedy, versatile player with good bat-to-ball skills.

“He really found his identity again,” Derek Falvey said after the Twins called Martin up following Royce Lewis’ injury in Kansas City. “He’s kinda gone back and forth as to what he is as a hitter. And you saw late in the season in St. Paul, just the ability to put the bat on the ball, move the ball.”

Martin hits right-handed with an approach to right-center. That allows pitches to travel far into the strike zone before he offers at them, allowing him to see breaking pitches better while still giving himself time to hit fastballs.

“He has a different type of approach than most of our hitters here,” said Rocco Baldelli. “Some other lineups have a few guys like that in the lineup. We don’t have as many guys that have his sort of more contact-related approach. He sees the ball usually really deep before making any sort of decisions.”

MLB.com called Martin the best pure hitter in his draft class, and the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Martin fifth overall in 2020. The Athletic’s Keith Law believed that Toronto got the best player in the draft.

“The best prospect in the 2020 draft class slipped to the Blue Jays, who picked fifth and were probably delighted to have a player with his kind of potential get to their selection,” Law wrote in 2021. “Martin has exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus-plus bat speed, striking out only 36 times with 50 walks in 392 PA over his last year-plus at Vanderbilt.”

The Twins traded José Berríos, who was about to hit free agency, to Toronto for Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson at the 2021 trade deadline. The Blue Jays signed Berríos to a seven-year, $131 million extension, and he struggled in his first season. He finished 2022 with a 5.23 ERA (74 ERA+) and gave up a league-leading 199 hits and 100 earned runs a year after receiving Cy Young votes.

However, Berríos has settled in, finishing last season with a 3.65 ERA (116 ERA+) in 189.2 innings. Meanwhile, Woods Richardson had a 4.91 ERA in St. Paul last year and a 6.52 ERA in 9.2 major-league innings. He’s 23 and still has time to develop, but the 2018 second-round pick may not be major-league-ready if the Twins needed him early this season.

Therefore, Martin may be Minnesota’s best immediate return for Berríos. The Blue Jays immediately moved Martin to Double-A after he graduated from Vanderbilt, and he hit .270/.414/.382 at that level between the Blue Jays and Twins’ systems. His 41.4% on-base percentage was encouraging, but he wanted to improve upon his .382 slugging percentage.

But Martin’s change in approach didn’t yield results. In 2022, he hit .241/.367/.316 in Double-A. Still, the Twins promoted him to Triple-A last season, and he slashed .263/.387/.405 in St. Paul. Martin likely won’t hit for power like many other players in Minnesota’s lineup, but he makes up for it with good bat-to-ball skills, speed on the basepaths, and his versatility in the field.

“He’s not generally trying to hit the ball as hard intentionally,” said Baldelli. “That’s just the type of hitter he is. It’s what he does well. And yesterday it led to good results. There’s not a right way of doing this or a wrong way of doing it. That’s just who he is. And it worked against a guy that has really good, tremendous stuff.”

Brooks Lee will likely take over at third once he recovers from back spasms. But Martin can carve out a role in the majors if he can hit. He’s probably Minnesota’s best center fielder outside of Byron Buxton, and Baldelli can use him as a pinch-runner. Martin’s willingness to play all over and hit at any spot in the order gives the Twins valuable flexibility.

“Just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get,” Martin said on Tuesday. “You know, tomorrow is not guaranteed, so I’m just trying to be in the moment and be present. Just enjoy my time here and compete to the best of my ability.”

Assuming Martin can hit like he did against Glasnow, he should have ample time to settle in.

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