The Philadelphia Phillies are ecstatic that former Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin fell to them in the third round, with Baseball America‘s JJ Cooper saying he was a “massive get” at the spot that the team landed him.
Though Cooper said that “hit tool questions” caused Martin to fall a bit, Phillies scouting director Brian Barber wasn’t interested in speculating on Friday about why Martin fell. He’s just happy that things unfolded the way that they did.
“I’m sure there are some teams that liked him more than others, I don’t necessarily know the specifics for all 29 other teams,” Barber said. “All I know is what we thought internally. We had all the information and we were ready to go when the opportunity presented itself. There was just no way we were going to pass up that combination of tools there. So whether it was signability for some teams…whether it was their lack of belief in the hit tools, [I’m] not really worried about it. All I know is we were super excited to have the opportunity to select Casey.”
Martin had a monster freshman season at Arkansas, slashing .345/.418/.556 with 13 home runs 49 RBIs and 27 walks in 290 plate appearances. That said, he was unable to match that season. He slashed .286/.364/.548 with 15 home runs, 57 RBIs and 30 walks in 323 plate appearances in his sophomore year. Martin’s junior season was cut short because of COVID-19, but he was hitting just .271 in 15 games. He also struck out 165 times in 594 career collegiate at-bats, which is a higher clip (just shy of 28 percent) than you would like from his position.
Barber was quick to remind the collective media that Martin had surgery on the hamate bone in his left hand in October of 2019, something all parties involved believe affected his abbreviated junior season. That said, tests the Phillies were able to put Martin through and the production that he showed in his freshman year were enough to convince the Phillies that he will develop into an effective pro.
“We did get a lot of looks at that freshman year, when he jumped right into [being] a Division-1, SEC starter and lit it up. There are things that [make us] believe we can believe in the hit tool, and we [don’t think] he’s just a raw, toolsy athlete.”
There are questions about what position Martin will eventually play at the major league level. Baseball America notes that while “Martin has a penchant for making highlight-reel plays,” he is still very raw defensively. The report adds that scouts are torn on whether Martin will be able to develop into a major league-caliber shortstop, or if he fits better in center field or second base.
The Phillies think Martin is capable of playing any of the three, and they like that.
“We believe in Casey’s ability to play shortstop,” Barber said. “We also believe in his ability to be versatile on the field. So are there opportunities that will present themselves that he plays second base, third base or center field? I think he has the ability to do all those things, but we do believe in Casey’s ability to play shortstop.”
So what happens if Martin is able to stick at shortstop? The Phillies used the No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft on shortstop Bryson Stott, who checked in as the No. 3 prospect in the Phillies organization on Phillies Nation‘s most recent power rankings of the farm system.
“I don’t believe that any organization can have too many quality shortstops. And athletes that are able to play shortstop are normally able to play just about any position on the field as well. So if they [Martin and Stott] continue to go on and do the things we think they can do – both of them – I think the opportunities for them to stay on the field and play – and even if it’s on the same team at some point – they’ll be plentiful.”
The Phillies didn’t have a second-round pick in 2020 after signing Zack Wheeler, and the draft was limited to just five rounds this year, as opposed to the normal 40 rounds. That means more pressure will be placed on Martin than a normal third-round pick. Barber, who just completed his first MLB Draft as Phillies scouting director, is bullish on the future of Martin.
“Casey is an exciting, quick-twitch athlete and he’s just full of tools. Any time we’re going to be able to add a middle-of-the-field player…who has played at a high level in the SEC…with a tremendous speed and power combination like Casey has, we’re gonna be in. We didn’t think Casey had any chance of getting to us when the day started yesterday, and we didn’t have any intention of letting him get by us when that opportunity presented itself.”
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