Name: Richie Martin
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 190
How Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft
The old saying ‘it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish’ is one for Richie Martin to hang his hat on when assessing his 2016 season. The Oakland A’s 2015 top pick finished last year with positive momentum after a rough first four months of the season. Can he carry that momentum into 2017?
Although Martin played for three years at one of the top collegiate baseball programs, he was viewed as a project prospect when he was selected by the A’s with the 20th overall pick in 2015 out of Florida. An above-average defender and a good athlete with promise in his bat, Martin never put up the numbers at the plate in college that many expected of him coming out of high school. However, the A’s felt that Martin had plenty of growth potential left in his development and the talent to be an everyday shortstop in the big leagues. Although Martin’s first full season had a disappointing start, his strong finish has the A’s excited about his future.Slow starts aren’t anything new for Martin. Despite being the youngest freshman in Division I baseball, Martin became an everyday player for the Gators during his first season at the school. He hit .300 as a freshman but managed just a 707 OPS. He followed that season with a 697 OPS as a sophomore. Things began to come together for Martin before his junior season with the Gators, however. Playing in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Martin posted a 901 OPS and he stole 17 bases in 43 games. With his bat coming around and his glove already an asset, Martin came into his junior season with a potential first-round grade.
Richie Martin Stats
Although Martin didn’t find quite the same level of success with the bat as a junior with Florida, he did enough to remain in the first-round picture. In a career-high 70 games, Martin hit .291/.399/.430. He posted an even 1:1 K:BB ratio and connected on a career-best six homeruns.
After signing with the A’s at the conclusion of the College World Series, Martin joined the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. He got off to a fast start with the Lake Monsters but struggled for the final six weeks of the season and finished with a .237/.353/.342 line. The A’s liked Martin’s understanding of the strike-zone but began working with him to make adjustments to his swing mechanics to improve his timing at the plate.
That work continued into the spring, when Martin was a non-roster invitee to major league camp. He made only five appearances in big league camp, but he was playing well in minor league camp when he was sidelined with a knee injury sustained on a play at second base late in the spring. That injury cost Martin the first seven weeks of the regular season and halted the work he was doing on his swing.
Martin joined the Stockton Ports in late May. As he did with Vermont, Martin got off to a solid start with Stockton but then fell into a slump. This slump was even deeper than the one he experienced with the Lake Monsters. It came to a head in July when Martin hit only .144 with a 444 OPS for the entire month. From the outside, the slump was a cause for major concern, but in-house, the A’s weren’t too worried. They had asked Martin to revamp his mechanics mid-season and they were willing to live with poor numbers as he got comfortable with the new swing. A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was pleased with how Martin handled making those changes in the middle of the year.
“It’s not going to be a straight-line fix, but certainly pitch recognition and his timing are much, much better. I think we’ll see much better results from him as he progresses,” Lieppman said mid-season. “It’s just a little bit at a time for him. We are very happy with how he has done. We moved him aggressively to that level and he has handled it.”
Martin began to enjoy the fruits of his labors during the final month of the minor league season. He looked like a different player at the plate and, in 106 at-bats, hit .292/.385/.453 with his only two homers of the season. His K:BB for the month was 22:13, a big improvement over June and July, when he had a 50:20 rate. The A’s bumped Martin up to Double-A Midland for the last week of the regular season and he continued to hit well, collecting five hits and three walks in 15 at-bats over five games. He also performed well for the RockHounds during the post-season, batting .320/.400/.480 with a homer in eight games.
Martin’s work wasn’t done when the RockHounds’ clinched their third straight Texas League crown. He participated in the A’s fall Instructional League for a second straight year, and he continued to work on revamping his swing. A’s minor league hitting coach Eric Martins felt that after a couple of weeks, Martin began to show significant signs of improvement.
“There were some different things that we did where we collaborated as a staff with Jim Eppert [A’s minor league hitting coordinator] and Keith Lieppman. We wanted to hone in on what he wants to feel at the plate and what we want to see from him and come together on that with Richie. Richie is so in-tune with what he wants to feel [at the plate] sometimes if it doesn’t match what we want him to do, it’s hard for him to get,” Martins said. “I think after about two weeks into Instructs, he found something that was pretty good. He came in with the leg kick and there was all kinds of different things and moving parts. He’s another guy who just needed some separation into his swing. He had a really good and pretty productive Instructional League for him to find what he needed to find to go into the off-season.”
If it all comes together for Martin at the plate, he could be a starting shortstop in the big leagues for a long time. Defensively, Martin is already advanced for his age. He has excellent range both to the glove and arm side and his throwing arm is one of the strongest in the A’s system. He is a smart player who uses his understanding of the game to position himself well on the field. Offensively, Martin has a good grasp of the strike-zone. That understanding coupled with his above-average speed make him a possible lead-off candidate down-the-road. He isn’t a tall guy, but Martin has considerable strength and could threaten the 10-homer plateau at his peak. His swing has been complicated throughout his career, but if he can find comfort with his new mechanics, he has a chance to hit for average and get on-base at an above-average clip.
“The tools are there. It has been natural in his development to dip his toe in the water and gradually get better,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we are having this conversation two years from now and he has surged forward and become the guy that we had envisioned during the draft. The talent is there, but he’s just in the acclimation stage of his development.”
One of the reasons the A’s are optimistic that Martin has several positive development seasons left is his age. He was the youngest player selected from a four-year college in the 2015 draft and he just turned 22 in December, making him younger than many players who were drafted in 2016. Martin is one of the tooliest players in the A’s system and one of their top defenders up-the-middle. The A’s have struggled with their infield defense the past few seasons. If Martin can catch his bat up to his glove, he could have a big impact on the A’s at the major league level.
Martin is likely to start the 2016 season with Midland and could get a cup of coffee in Triple-A by the end of the year.
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