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.