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Baseball draft call should come quickly for Trinity grad Austin Martin

Vandy star projected to be top 2 pick; BK’s Colby Halter is top high school prospect

Austin Martin of Vanderbilt tries to beat a throw to first base in the third inning against the Michigan Wolverines during game two of the College World Series Championship Series on June 25, 2019 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Austin Martin of Vanderbilt tries to beat a throw to first base in the third inning against the Michigan Wolverines during game two of the College World Series Championship Series on June 25, 2019 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Pro baseball may not return in 2020, but the draft is here.

So, too, is a shot at history.

Trinity Christian graduate Austin Martin, a true junior infielder at Vanderbilt, is widely projected to be one of the top selections, maybe even No. 1 overall, in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday night.

Martin is the consensus No. 2 pick in the most recent mock drafts by Baseball America, CBS Sports, MLB.com and The Athletic, but has been pegged as the No. 1 player on quite a few occasions throughout the draft process.

He’s likely to become a trivia answer one day among local baseball fans.

He’ll no doubt become the highest-drafted player from Trinity Christian, but could Martin become the second No. 1 overall selection from the area? It’s certainly possible.

If not, he’s more than likely locked in to be second-highest Jacksonville-area player to be taken in the pro draft.

Only three times have players with area ties been selected in the top nine picks — Bolles’ Chipper Jones (to the Braves at No. 1 in 1990), Paxon’s Robert Weaver (sixth by the Indians in 1968) and Arlington Country Day’s Javier Baez (ninth by the Cubs in 2011). Trinity product JC Flowers was a fourth-round pick out of Florida State last year, the highest-drafted Conquerors graduate.

Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson is projected by many mock drafts to go before Martin. Detroit, Baltimore, Miami, Kansas City and Toronto hold the first five picks, respectively.

Martin isn’t the only area prospect on the board in one of the strangest baseball offseasons of all time. Bishop Kenny infielder Colby Halter leads the high school contingent and is projected as the No. 106 prospect in the draft by Baseball America and No. 148 by MLB.com, although he could climb into an early Day 2 selection. Jacksonville pitcher Trent Palmer is No. 114 by MLB.com and No. 165 by Baseball America.

The catch.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams took a machete to the pro draft and chopped it down to five rounds. It is usually 40. There were 1,217 players selected last year. In 2020, there will be 160 players drafted. Rounds 2-5 will be held Thursday.

Martin, as several other top prospects have done in the lead up to the draft, declined an interview request through Vanderbilt. While his lofty draft credentials suggest that he was poised for big things, it wasn’t that way early in his career. Martin could always hit and make contact, but he didn’t pivot from solid to special until the latter portion of his high school career.

Martin was a role player during his freshman and sophomore seasons and didn’t hit the accelerator on his career until early in his junior year. His former coach at Trinity, Gil Morales, said that he can pinpoint the moments that Martin turned the corner as a prospect.

The Conquerors, who won the state title in 2015, were playing against West Orange on Feb. 12, 2016 and ace hurler Tyler Baum, a UNC signee. Martin belted a homer off of him. Baum was a second-round pick of Oakland last year. Two weeks later, Martin faced Windermere Prep’s top arm, Austin Bergner and took him yard. Bergner, also a UNC product, was a ninth-rounder last year by Detroit.

“Amar hits homers on both of those guys and all of the sudden it’s like, who is this guy,” said Morales, now the coach at Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale. “That was a good team [2016] and he really started stepping out and becoming a player that year. He could always hit. That sucker could hit from the day he was born. I’m so proud of how hard he worked on his defense, how he became such a utility player where he could play anywhere in the field. Literally, put him anywhere.”

Martin committed to Jacksonville University in high school and was a 37th-round pick by Cleveland in 2017. But he spurned JU and pro ball for the chance to play at Vanderbilt. He helped lead the Commordores to the College World Series in 2019 and popped up on just about every preseason All-American list out there in 2020 before the season was wiped out by the pandemic. Martin was a career .368 hitter with 39 doubles, 14 home runs and 76 RBI.

And he’s as versatile as they come. Martin can play any infield or outfield position. Some scouting services see him as a centerfielder in the bigs. Others suggest he can hold down third base.

“For him, I know he’s kind of in this like, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening for me’ place,” Morales said. “He’s an interesting story. He really developed through high school. He didn’t have a lot of colleges on him as a sophomore and a freshman. All guys work hard, but he flat out worked hard to get to this point.

“When you’re around Amar day in and day out with him, he’s a winner. Just had a chip on his shoulder and he’s won everywhere he’s been. Look what happened in college. He wins a World Series and he’s arguably the best player in the country.”

Halter finds himself in a unique position.

He’s the unquestioned top high schooler in the area this year and has signed with the University of Florida. He hit .338 as a junior although saw the bulk of his final season erased by the coronavirus.

“My family is excited for me either way, my friends are excited for me no matter what,” Halter said. I try not to be anxious or anything like that. It’s something you worked toward your whole life. I’m more excited than anything. I’ll start my career at UF and have a great career there or I’ll get a chance to start pro ball and have a great career there. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Halter could become one of the highest-drafted players taken straight out of Bishop Kenny if he’s taken. Only six Crusaders products have been selected in the fifth round or higher.

Kenny products like catcher Tony Richie (fourth round pick out of Florida State in 2003), pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (fourth round in 2003), infielder Mat Gamel (fourth round pick out of Chipola College in 2005) and outfielder Todd Dunn (first-second sandwich round pick in 1993) went to college and bettered their draft position. Infielder Kevin Witt remains the top Kenny draft selection, going to Toronto in the first round in 1994.

Halter said that he’s heard positive things entering the draft, but said that he’s set no matter how the selection plays out.

“This offseason has been weird,” he said. “But it’s been a good opportunity to get better, get in the weightroom and hit baseballs every single day because not much else was going on.”

Prospect rankings

Baseball America

Rank, Drafting team (if applicable), Position, College/high school (local tie)

2. Orioles, IF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt (Trinity Christian)

106. IF Colby Halter, Bishop Kenny

165. RHP Trent Palmer, Jacksonville University

315. RHP Franco Aleman, St. Johns River State

319. RHP, Lebarron Johnson Jr., Paxon

CBS Sports

2. Orioles, IF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt (Trinity Christian

MLB.com

2. Orioles, IF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt (Trinity Christian)

114. RHP Trent Palmer, Jacksonville University

148. IF Colby Halter, Bishop Kenny

The Athletic

2. Orioles, IF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt (Trinity Christian)


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.