Austin Martin Is Starting To Look Like Minnesota's Chris Taylor

Photo Credit: Brian Bradshaw Sevald-USA TODAY Sports

It’s early, but Austin Martin is starting to show up for the Minnesota Twins, even as the rest of the lineup struggles. Maybe he hasn’t reached the ceiling that that team had in mind when they acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays along with Simeon Woods Richardson in exchange for José Berríos, but he’s one of the only positives in the current Twins lineup.

With questions remaining regarding his role on a contending club, the Twins should look at what the Los Angeles Dodgers have done with their roster construction over the last eight-plus seasons.

Utility player Chris Taylor will never get the marquee billing when people think about the dynasty Dodger team that has featured the likes of superstars such as Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and now Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Shohei Ohtani. However, Taylor’s role on the club has been a constant through their extended run as the National League’s best team in recent years.

The versatile, right-handed hitter shares many characteristics with Martin: their ability to play multiple positions in the infield and outfield, their speedy profile, and occasional power to the gaps. It should also be noted that Taylor came up as a well-regarded prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization before finding his niche with the Dodgers after a trade. The hope would be for Martin to follow a similar path, where he finds a role that can be as flexible as he is.

And if the young rookie can get anywhere near Taylor’s offensive output, the Twins would gladly take it. Since the start of the 2016 season, LA’s utility man has a combined .253/.333/.439 clip, which is roughly 10% better than the league average in that span. According to Fangraphs, he’s accumulated 17 Wins Above Replacement.

The differences in their respective games are subtle but important to note. Martin likely won’t match Taylor’s good-not-great power numbers, but his minor league career suggests he should have a better on-base clip. In his three seasons in the minor leagues, Martin’s OBP has pushed .400 and has never gone below .368, which would lead all Minnesota’s hitters this year. However, that may not be saying much, given that the major league lineup has more holes than the plotline of a Fast and the Furious movie.

To match Taylor’s impact with his club, Martin must continue to develop offensively while shoring up his defense. Here’s what Fangraphs had to say about Martin in a recent scouting report:

Martin has sustained plus contact ability against upper-minors arms, but he still hasn’t solidified himself as an average defender at any one defensive spot. Instead he’s playing a mix of 2B/CF/LF, none of them particularly well.

While they are skeptical of his defense, they note that he’s young enough to shore up his skillset, especially as he gets more exposure to the MLB level of play. Despite these challenges, they still like what they’ve seen with Martin’s bat-to-ball skills at the plate.

While many aspects of his profile are either middling or murky, Martin is going to hit. He tracks pitches well, his swing is compact, he can move the barrel around most of the zone, and he has lovely inside-out feel that allows him to pepper the oppo gap. He’ll hit for lots of contact and projects to be a versatile enough defender to play a two- or three-position role of modest impact.

That’s a similar profile to what the Dodgers have gotten out of Taylor. Minnesota’s long-term plans no longer require Martin to become the star player he was at Vanderbilt. Just as Taylor was never the focus of his team’s offense, the Twins will never task Martin with carrying his lineup through the muck. But if he can keep developing into a flexible speedster that gets on base at an above-average clip, he could be a valuable piece on a contending team.

Now, the Twins just need the rest of their young core to get healthy and back on a productive track. Either that or spend a billion dollars in a single free agency period.

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