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5 Things to Know About Twins Deadline Centerpiece Austin Martin


The Twins traded away their top pitcher on Friday, but in return, they might've gotten back a new top prospect.

Make no mistake: Austin Martin is a phenomenal talent and one of the best young players in the game. These five facts will help explain why he's a worthy deadline centerpiece.

1. Some felt Martin was the top player in last year's draft class.
The Vanderbilt star ended up going to the Jays fifth overall, but plenty of outsiders (and I would imagine some insiders) viewed him as the best player available in the 2020 draft – both before and after it took place. 

CBS Sports had Martin ranked No. 1 on their board ahead of the draft, one spot ahead of Arizona State's Spencer Torkelson, who ended up going first overall to Detroit. Months later, when The Athletic's Keith Law put together his preseason top prospect rankings for 2021, he remarked: "The best prospect in the 2020 draft class slipped to the Blue Jays, who picked fifth."

This appears to be a fairly common sentiment, and it's not hard to see why analysts and evaluators would be high on Martin's potential. He had a monster collegiate career, marked by standout athleticism, defensive versatility, steadily increasing power, and ridiculous bat-to-ball skills. (In his COVID-shortened junior year, he struck out twice in 69 plate appearances.)

"This bat at a skill position is pretty unusual and gives him some MVP upside," said Law in his writeup.

2. Most prominent prospect publications now view him as the Twins' best prospect. 
In our recently released midseason top 30 prospects update, we had Royce Lewis ranked as Minnesota's top prospect, which reflects the industry consensus now that Alex Kirilloff has graduated. Some outlets still view it that way – MLB Pipeline has Lewis ahead of Martin, though it's close (No. 13 versus No. 16 in the overall top 100 rankings), and FanGraphs has Lewis ranked No. 32 compared to Martin at No. 59.  

That's one virtual tie, and one outlier. The rest of the big pubs view Martin more favorably than Lewis, and often by significant margins. Law's preseason rankings for The Athletic had Martin at No. 14, and Lewis at No. 46. (Law's updated midseason top 50 saw Martin move up to 12, with Royce not appearing.) Baseball America has Martin ranked 21st, and Lewis ranked 60th. Baseball Prospectus likes them both, but also gives Martin the edge: their preseason rankings had him at No. 22 with Lewis at No. 31, and the midseason top 50 bumped Martin up to 20 with Lewis sliding off. Said BP in their latest blurb on Martin: "There are too many ways he can provide value to a team for abject failure to be a possibility."

It's difficult to assess the two in comparison right now. Martin is a 22-year-old getting his first taste of the majors at Double-A, whereas Lewis is out for this whole season and hasn't played since 2019. The bottom line is that they're both really high-caliber prospects and the Twins have a very healthy system with these two at the top.

3. He could end up filling one of several positions of uncertainty for the Twins.
One of the most intriguing things about Martin is his defensive fit. Like Lewis, his future in the field is uncertain, but as with Royce, that's not because he's bad with the glove – quite the contrary. Martin can play several different positions well, which is surely something that drew the Twins to him.

This year at Double-A, he has split time evenly between shortstop and center field. By the end of his career at Vanderbilt, he was playing primarily third base. 

Hmm... what are the most glaring positions of uncertainty for the Twins going forward?

Well, there's center field, where Byron Buxton is heading into a walk year, and shaping up as an offseason trade candidate. Then there's shortstop, which is essentially unspoken for after Andrelton Simmons wraps his one-year deal. Oh, and let's not forget third base, where 34-year-old Josh Donaldson is a chronic injury risk and also could be shipped out next winter.

Perhaps Martin's future is not as a full-timer at any one spot. The Twins love their flexibility, and it's probably not by accident that their top two position prospects embody such a quality. As R.J. Anderson wrote in Martin's pre-draft profile for CBS Sports: "A creative team could maximize his value by having him split time between the infield and the outfield, a la Whit Merrifield and Scott Kingery, among others."

4. He posted a .500 on-base percentage over 76 plate appearances in July for the Class-AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Martin's pro career got off to a bit of a slow start, but he's improved with each passing month. 

  • May: .265/.378/.353
  • June: .284/.402/.432
  • July: .296/.500/.352

Yes, you read that right: Martin reached base in 50% of his plate appearances this past month. Sandwiched in their was an appearance at the 2021 Futures Game, where he batted second and started at shortstop. You'll never guess: he reached base both times up.

This speaks to Martin's offensive strengths. He's a natural-born lead-off hitter, with tremendous discipline, solid speed, and a knack for finding knocks. In his July slash line we also see Martin's biggest current shortcoming: the .352 slugging percentage – just one double and one triple in those 76 plate appearances. But the 22-year-old is still growing into his body and most scouts agree that power will come, and on-base skills like this are a lot rarer in today's game than slugging prowess.

5. He's the best minor-league talent the Twins have acquired in decades.
I mean, time will tell whether this ACTUALLY proves to be true. But if you look at prospect rankings and available evidence when moves were made, it's hard to find a precedent for the Twins making an acquisition like this. 

The closest example would have to be Delmon Young, who was viewed as one of the best prospects in baseball before the Twins traded Matt Garza for him, but he'd already played a season and change in the big leagues. (Not a great precedent, obviously, but Martin and Young are polar opposites as players.) 

Outside of that, who would even qualify in this discussion? Carlos Gomez was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana package, and was highly regarded as a prospect but not on the level of Martin. (Gomez ranked No. 52 according to BA and No. 65 according to BP when the Twins acquired him, and also, he'd already played some in the majors.) How far back do you have to go to find a real comp for Martin? Back before the days of prospect rankings really even being a thing, I would think. 

The bottom line is, this organization has rarely ever brought in a prospect of this caliber because they've rarely been willing to do what it takes to land one. In Martin, the Twins added a true prize with legitimate franchise-altering potential. Now that's how you sell at the deadline.

It doesn't take away the sting of losing a cherished fixture in Berríos, but makes it a whole lot easier to stomach.

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I love Martin and might drive the hype train.

He was playing 3B at Vandy, but questions about his arm strength and accuracy led to a move to CF.

You can live with seeing how that plays out while developing, but the likelihood is that SS/3B and CF won't be long-term homes. 2B/LF is probably how this plays out. 

He could turn out to be what you wish Arraez would be defensively, with a very similar offensive profile if the power doesn't develop. 

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Just now, ashbury said:

I hope the pitcher the Twins got turns out to be good. Because other teams will sell you a hitting prospect any day of the week to get good starting pitching.

He's 20 in AA....and has really good stuff....I have no ability to predict the future though (as you'd know from my day trades this year.....). But I also hope he's good. I'd say really good chance he's AT least a RP......at the MLB level. If not more.

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8 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

He's 20 in AA....and has really good stuff....I have no ability to predict the future though (as you'd know from my day trades this year.....). But I also hope he's good. I'd say really good chance he's AT least a RP......at the MLB level. If not more.

I hadn't recalled seeing the part about relief pitcher until after the trade. Sobering.

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26 minutes ago, Jeremy Nygaard said:

I love Martin and might drive the hype train.

He was playing 3B at Vandy, but questions about his arm strength and accuracy led to a move to CF.

You can live with seeing how that plays out while developing, but the likelihood is that SS/3B and CF won't be long-term homes. 2B/LF is probably how this plays out. 

He could turn out to be what you wish Arraez would be defensively, with a very similar offensive profile if the power doesn't develop. 

So what do you think the best comps are for Martin? I've seen the names Ben Zobrist and Whit Merrifield thrown out there. Are those good comparisons of what to expect...... or is that his floor?
What the best case scenario?...This is the hype train after all.

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12 minutes ago, ashbury said:

I hadn't recalled seeing the part about relief pitcher until after the trade. Sobering.

I wouldn't worry too much about being a RP yet. He's going to end up there if he doesn't get the walks under control, but he's had a really weird year with the Olympics interrupting his year. I'll give his 2021 year of stats a pass.

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As noted by KLaw, the power drop this season can likely be attributed to a change in swing approach sparked by a hand injury. I'll worry about that if he keeps inside-outing his swing after getting fully healthy.

(I've bashed FanGraphs a bit lately for downgrading Martin right now, but I think it's justified because they seem to be ignoring the injury to downgrade the player. In their write-up on Martin as part of the trade they again ignored the issue which I find baffling.)

He's a really good player. Fits in a lot of different positions. Would love to see how he plays a short, since Lewis won't be ready in 2022 and Simmons might/won't be back and Polanco should stick at 2B rather that float him back to SS as anything other than an occasional fill-in. If Buxton gets dealt in the off-season (please no?) then CF sure seems like an option too. I'm enthusiastic about this guy and don't think he's far off at all.

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3 minutes ago, ericberget said:

So what do you think the best comps are for Martin? I've seen the names Ben Zobrist and Whit Merrifield thrown out there. Are those good comparisons of what to expect...... or is that his floor?
What the best case scenario?...This is the hype train after all.

Ceiling - if the power comes and he irons out all the defensive questions: Mookie Betts, with less speed.

His floor: Marwin Gonzalez, Twins 2020.

I do like my comp as a more versatile Luis Arraez as a median.

 

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Just now, Jeremy Nygaard said:

Ceiling - if the power comes and he irons out all the defensive questions: Mookie Betts, with less speed.

His floor: Marwin Gonzalez, Twins 2020.

I do like my comp as a more versatile Luis Arraez as a median.

 

He's going to be much better than Arraez, imo. 

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Great article Nick.  Well researched and informative.  If he is half as good as the hype he will be a superstar.  If all the prospects the twins now have in their system are so great then why aren't they on the Twins major league team?  Because the Twins are one of the worst teams in MLB.  If they are so good get them up here and see what they can do 

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9 hours ago, ashbury said:

I hope the pitcher the Twins got turns out to be good. Because other teams will sell you a hitting prospect any day of the week to get good starting pitching.

He is higher ranked than any pitching prospect in our system and we have some good ones coming up 

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10 hours ago, ericberget said:

So what do you think the best comps are for Martin? I've seen the names Ben Zobrist and Whit Merrifield thrown out there. Are those good comparisons of what to expect...... or is that his floor?
What the best case scenario?...This is the hype train after all.

I think Merrifield is a great comp for his most likely outcome. High average player who moves around the field. Not insane speed, but enough to swipe bags and be a nuisance. Not great power, but will run into a dozen a year.

I also like Marwin comp for his floor. Glove that can move around and be solid wherever it goes, but offense is spotty. (Surgeon General Warning: His floor is he never makes the bigs and is a complete bust from today forward. Now that I got that covered hopefully no debbie downers feel the need to say it)

His ceiling to me is Lindor with less arm, but I'd give him a 1% chance of ever getting there. 

I think his most likely range is Merrifield to Polanco. Solid contact hitter, decent speed, decent glove, then just is he hitting 12 or 22 bombs?

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He probably passed Lewis in rankings because Lewis is not playing right now- essentially losing a year in development. Martin is a very good prospect and probably will end up in center field (IMHO) unless Buxton signs an extension. I don't like the talk about power or him playing multiple positions. Power could reduce his OBP and playing multiple positions could reduce his overall offensive ability. Hopefully he can become a Yelich type player but we'll see. At least we got a decent player and another for Berrios.

Isn't anyone surprised by how highly regarded our former starter Gibson was? We practically were throwing him away a few years ago. He has turned into a quality starter.

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Thanks for an excellent analysis, Nick.  When comparing Martin to Lewis, is it correct that Lewis has more speed and eventually could be a touch better defensively, especially in center because of that added step?

On the other hand, it sounds like Martin has the edge with the bat, although Lewis was really good last time out in the AFL.  Is that also an accurate assessment?

Although Martin is younger (he is, isn't he?), he will probably debut with the Twins sooner because Lewis hasn't played in two years?

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2 hours ago, roger said:

Thanks for an excellent analysis, Nick.  When comparing Martin to Lewis, is it correct that Lewis has more speed and eventually could be a touch better defensively, especially in center because of that added step?

On the other hand, it sounds like Martin has the edge with the bat, although Lewis was really good last time out in the AFL.  Is that also an accurate assessment?

Although Martin is younger (he is, isn't he?), he will probably debut with the Twins sooner because Lewis hasn't played in two years?

Yep, I think you're correct on all counts. 

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3 hours ago, twinfan said:

Isn't anyone surprised by how highly regarded our former starter Gibson was? We practically were throwing him away a few years ago. He has turned into a quality starter.

Personally I'm not all that surprised. He always had it in him, and showed flashes during his time here. Nice to see Gibby pull it all together. 

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My thoughts on Lewis vs Martin.

Royce Lewis is near Buxton speed and should be a lot faster than Austin Martin. Lewis has a speed grade of 70 with an 80 grade speed out of the box to first compared to Austin's 50-55. That said, blowing out his ACL could have long term impacts on his speed. Even though return from ACL injury takes 9-12 months, the speed can take longer to come back, if ever. I mean, unless you're Adrian Peterson.

I think Martin's potential ETA depends a lot on whether or not the Twins are willing to invest time in trying to make Martin into a shortstop. Since Martin doesn't have the elite speed optimal for a CF, spending time to try and get him to grade out well as a shortstop is worth it, in my opinion. Martin doesn't have a plus graded arm, so he'll have to rely on reaction time, a sure glove and a quick release. Polanco has a similar arm grade at 50 which is borderline for a SS. If the Twins do invest in the shortstop route, I'd expect Martin to be an ETA of 2023. If the Twins just want Martin as soon as possible, I could see him at the MLB level roster next year.

My thoughts on Lewis is... who knows? If he's able to heal up quick and get back to his original full speed before the start of next year, he'd have to absolutely rake at AA/AAA and excel defensively to make the Twins roster in September 2022. I'd put him on the same basic timeline as the shortstop version of Austin Martin. 

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3 hours ago, twinfan said:

He probably passed Lewis in rankings because Lewis is not playing right now- essentially losing a year in development. Martin is a very good prospect and probably will end up in center field (IMHO) unless Buxton signs an extension. I don't like the talk about power or him playing multiple positions. Power could reduce his OBP and playing multiple positions could reduce his overall offensive ability. Hopefully he can become a Yelich type player but we'll see. At least we got a decent player and another for Berrios.

Isn't anyone surprised by how highly regarded our former starter Gibson was? We practically were throwing him away a few years ago. He has turned into a quality starter.

When thinking about Gibson, we need to remember the circumstances when he wasn't resigned.  If memory serves, he was coming off that terrible experience from when he was doing the charity work down in the Islands.  Didn't he lose something like 25 pounds and had some illness that made it difficult for him to keep weight on and was physically tired all the time?  Made it tough for the Twins to know if he would ever again be the pitcher he had been.

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5 hours ago, bean5302 said:

My thoughts on Lewis vs Martin.

I have many questions about Lewis' bat, especially since he didn't hit well in 2019 outside of Fall League, and has not gained experience in 2020 and 2021. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes him several years in the majors for his bat to reach its true potential. As for Martin, I have few doubts that he's going to be a hitter in the bigs. 

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2 hours ago, Danchat said:

I have many questions about Lewis' bat, especially since he didn't hit well in 2019 outside of Fall League, and has not gained experience in 2020 and 2021. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes him several years in the majors for his bat to reach its true potential. As for Martin, I have few doubts that he's going to be a hitter in the bigs. 

It's been two years of physical maturing for Lewis so I'd expect him to showcase improved bat speed and power.

I share the concerns about his bat, but 2 months of .900 OPS play at AA would go a long ways to allievating any concern. It's too early to make a judgement based on what very much looks like just a down year to me. Don't forget, at age 19, Lewis was holding his own at A+. He actually took a step back at age 20. His BABIP has seemed a bit low in A+ and AA considering his speed out of the box, but there was no jump in K rate between A+ and AA, either. There's a lot of good signs.

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