Austin Martin was originally committed to Jacksonville University, giving a verbal pledge prior to his junior season of high school in 2015.
It was the only offer Martin, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, received until he was a senior. He performed well in the fall of his senior year, causing Vanderbilt University to reach out and offer him an opportunity to join its program.
Throughout his senior year, Martin didn’t know what path to take in terms of his baseball future. He wasn’t sure if he should stick with his commitment to Jacksonville, explore attending Vanderbilt or embark on a professional career, he said.
In mid-May 2017, Martin travelled to Nashville, Tennessee for the weekend to watch the Commodores square off against Alabama. He also met with coach Tim Corbin for breakfast to learn more about the program and their vision for him, if he ended up deciding to join the program in the fall.
“He was talking about the atmosphere and how playing at the school would change my life and how on this team would change my life,” Martin said. “So far, he hasn’t steered me wrong. That was a good breakfast we had and it really leveled my head and steered me away from pro ball and to going to campus and wanting to win a national championship.”
The conversation affirmed Martin’s commitment to Vanderbilt. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 37th round of the 2017 MLB draft but declined that option.
Martin’s decision has worked out in his favor. The junior utility player has thrived in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt and developed into a top prospect for June’s MLB draft. Entering this spring, Martin is in the mix for the No. 1 pick, which is held by the Detroit Tigers.
Although professional scouts will be prevalent at every Vanderbilt game this season, Martin is trying to keep his team-first mentality and help the Commodores have another strong season after they won last year’s College World Series.
“I know every guy on this team isn’t focused on the draft right now,” he said. “Right now, we are just focused on how we can get better and how we can get this team to win more ball games.”
Martin excelled as a freshman at Vanderbilt in 2018. He was the Commodores second-best hitter, recording a .338 batting average with one home run, 19 RBIs, 14 doubles, 75 hits and 22 stolen bases in 222 at-bats.
Last year as a sophomore, he had an even better season, posting a .392 batting average with 10 home runs, 46 RBIs, 87 runs scored, 19 doubles, four triples, 105 hits and 18 stolen bases in 268 at-bats. He led the country in runs scored and ranked third in hits.
Martin is one of the best hitters in college baseball. The right-handed hitter possesses tremendous ability at the plate, as he makes consistent, hard contact with his quick, compact swing. He has a strong understanding of the strike zone and uses his line-drive approach to drive the ball to all parts of the field.
Although he is 6-foot, 170 pounds, Martin offers solid power potential, which should only improve as he adds strength to his frame.
Martin has no glaring weaknesses at the plate.
“I definitely think my hit tool is my biggest strength,” Martin said. “It’s definitely the part of my game that’s shown the player I am. I don’t really try to look at the tools, I just want to be the best all-around baseball player I can be.”
Martin has the athleticism, arm strength and overall skills to play anywhere on the diamond. As a freshman, he started games at six different positions. Last year, Martin started at second base before settling in as Vanderbilt’s third baseman.
Although most assumed Martin would slide over to shortstop this spring, he said that might not be the case. He profiles as a shortstop in the pro ranks.
“I honestly don’t even think I’ll be at shortstop this year,” Martin said. “I don’t know to be honest with you. I have no idea. Whatever is the best fit for the team, I’m fine with.
“Right now, we are just moving pieces around to see what pieces fit into place that will make us better on the field. If it’s me at shortstop, that’s how it will happen. But if not, I don’t know – it could be third or it could be center. None of us know at this point.”
Vanderbilt enters this spring as arguably the top team in the country, after defeating Michigan in three games in the championship round of the College World Series last year in Omaha, Nebraska. It marked the program’s second national championship.
The Commodores have the talent to repeat as champions this season with a stacked roster headlined by Martin.
“I’ve learned more than I could have imagined being here,” Martin said. “Last year was a dream. Looking back at it, you kind of get upset that it had to come to an end at some point. I was just the most fun I had on a baseball field.
“We definitely will have our ups and downs this year, but as long as we can stay consistent, that will be a huge piece for us to be able to perform at a high level.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.