The Blue Jays have signed first-round pick Austin Martin. Now will he stick with the club?
“I look good in blue.”
Those were the first words uttered by Austin Martin as an official member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization on Wednesday. Martin, the Blue Jays’ fifth overall pick from June’s draft, and his agent, Scott Boras, had just put the finishing touches on a deal worth $7 million, the largest bonus ever given to a Blue Jays draft pick and second only to first overall pick Spencer Torkelson in the class.
That Martin dropped to Toronto in the draft was no small miracle. He was rated as the No. 2 prospect entering the draft and called the “best pure hitter” of the 2020 class by MLB Pipeline with “no weaknesses at the plate.” But the Baltimore Orioles, picking second, drafted outfielder Heston Kjerstad, and after the Miami Marlins and Kansas City Royals went with pitchers, the Blue Jays front office snapped up a player they couldn’t have foreseen would still be there for the taking.
However, Martin and the notoriously stingy Boras wanted to be paid like the No. 2 player in the draft and forced the Blue Jays to go $900,000 above their draft slot to sign him. Now that the hard part of getting him under contract is done, Martin can join the Blue Jays for summer camp at the Rogers Centre as a member of their 60-man roster.
That Martin will be a member of that roster is a foregone conclusion. He hasn’t played a game as a professional yet but is already the 16th highest-rated prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. In his junior year at Vanderbilt this spring, he hit .377 with a .507 on-base percentage in 16 games. He led the SEC with a .392 average last season and was named first team All-SEC and All-America. More of a gap hitter with a smooth swing than a power hitter, he had just 14 home runs in three seasons but added 39 doubles. His command of the strikeout shows a maturity well beyond his 21 years. He drew 85 walks in his college career to just 82 strikeouts.
Toronto, though, still has to figure out what to do with him. The chances of him appearing in a Blue Jays uniform this season would be remote in any normal year; but 2020 is no ordinary year, and clubs may force prospects to the big leagues more quickly than they usually would with no minor league season.
Judging by the high praise heaped upon him by team president Mark Shapiro on Wednesday, the Blue Jays expect him to play a role sooner rather than later. “To say we’re excited about the future of the Blue Jays is an understatement,” Shapiro said upon announcing the signing. “We feel like we’re positioned better than any team in baseball. I say that knowing the last five minutes we got positioned better.”
“We feel like you have a chance to be a very important part and fit right in with the guys. Your combination of talent and character is going to lead you to be the best you can be. And that’s all we ever ask for.”
Martin is versatile and capable of playing all over the field, but that can be the only concern about him. He has no set position. The Blue Jays announced him as a shortstop during the draft, but he played primarily second and third base at Vanderbilt. He appeared at six different positions over his college career, splitting the 2020 season at third and center field. Scouts believe he could eventually settle at second.
The Blue Jays, of course, already have an infield manned by a trio of capable young players. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a fixture at third, at least for the near future, while Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio traditionally play up the middle. Biggio, though, can also play in the outfield, opening up room for Martin to take his spot in the infield one day.
That day could come sooner than many people think. Martin is on his way to Toronto; based on his talent and how highly the club regards him, he might not leave for a long time.