On a cool spring night in March, righthander Ethan Martin toed the rubber for Stephens County High (Toccoa, Ga.), in the LaGrange Invitational. But it wasn’t just another in-state contest for Martin and the Indians. They were about to face American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.), the No. 3 team in the country at the time and the eventual national champions.
The temperature hovered around 40 degrees, but nothing could cool off Martin. It was that night he rocketed up draft boards as a righthander and began his path toward becoming the 2008 Baseball America High School Player of the Year.
Martin started that game as just another high school prospect who splits his time between the mound and a position. Lots of prospects do it, but most are firmly planted one way or the other by the time they reach their senior seasons. Martin was considered a third baseman who had plus bat speed with plus power potential, but some evaluators also liked him on the mound.
Martin retired the leadoff batter on two pitches before Eric Hosmer, the top power hitter among the prep ranks, stepped to the plate. Martin dealt two quick strikes with 94 and 96 mph fastballs. Then Hosmer battled and fouled off a couple pitches. With a 2-2 count, Martin delivered a backdoor slurve and froze Hosmer for strike three.
“That was probably the biggest game,” Martin said. “At that point I wasn’t a pitcher, really. If I did well it was great. If I didn’t, it wasn’t going to affect me because I was a position player.”
After retiring Hosmer, Martin promptly struck out Adrian Nieto, another top prospect, for the third out. The scouts in attendance raved about the new pitching talent now clearly on display.
Stephens County won the game, one of only two blemishes on American Heritage’s championship season, and it was largely thanks to Martin’s incredible performance. He pitched the complete game, striking out 11 batters, and his 130th pitch hit 93 on the gun. The final score was 6-4, but that would eventually get lost in the commotion of how Martin’s future had just changed.
However Martin will remember every detail of it, even down to the joking between him and Hosmer.
“We came into that game under no pressure,” Martin said. “It wasn’t like we weren’t supposed to win, so we went in calm and cool. It told us we could play with anybody. We got down late in playoff games, but came back because we knew we could. It helped tremendously.”
Told Ya So
After Hosmer struck out in his first at-bat, he told Martin not to throw the fastball again—just a little joke between two guys who spent plenty of time together in baseball, with events like the Aflac All-America game. In the next at-bat, Hosmer saw the fastball again but popped out. He reminded Martin one last time not to throw it, but Martin wouldn’t budge. In an ensuing at-bat, Martin put one of his 94 mph heaters high and outside, an almost impossible pitch to touch, but Hosmer flicked his wrists and sent a missile off the scoreboard in left field for a home run.
“That was the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen,” Martin said. “As he was going around the bases he looked at me and said, ‘I told you you shouldn’t have thrown it.’ “
With that game in the past, Martin cruised through the season, dominating the competition on both sides of the ball and helping his team make it to the Georgia 3-A state finals. In 15 appearances, Martin went 10-2, 1.50 with two saves and 162 strikeouts in 89 innings. At the plate he hit .509 with 18 home runs and 39 RBIs. He had 55 hits, 16 of which were doubles, giving him 34 extra-base hits, a staggering 62 percent of his total hits.
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior year,” Martin said. “I wanted to go out and perform at both (hitting and pitching). It was a dream season. It was a dream come true that we made it. We really overachieved.”
Martin and Stephen’s County fell to Taylor Hightower, Donovan Tate and Cartersville High in the finals, but the season, accolades and big wins meant much more to head coach Mark Gosnell and his squad, with Martin as the leader the whole way.
“He was a vital part of our program,” Gosnell said. “He stepped up to be our No. 1 guy on the mound. He led our team with stats, but also with communication and leadership on and off the field.”
While a state championship is probably a team’s biggest goal and a player will always tell you they just want to play hard and do what’s best for their team, other factors burn in the back of prospects’ minds. Martin’s season had one last piece to be put in place and on June 5, with the 15th overall pick of the draft, the Dodgers gave Martin the opportunity to become a professional baseball player.
“I had some friends and family over and we were all sitting around,” Martin said of the draft day anticipation. “I didn’t know where I was going, but the Dodgers called about a minute before their pick. They called my name and everybody went crazy. I heard it but didn’t see it. I was kind of in shock. Once everybody sat down and I saw my picture on TV it kind of hit me.”
The announcement of Martin’s name may have been misleading however. Martin was announced as a third baseman, but the Dodgers and he confirm that his future is on the mound.
Though Martin is moving on to pro ball, Stephen’s County is on the map, and Martin’s younger brother Cody will be looking to make a name for himself in his senior year.
Cody played shortstop because third base was obviously in good hands. The elder Martin believes his brother profiles as a third baseman and has good power from the left side. He’s also has been lending Cody some advice as he goes through the draft experiences.
“I’m just trying to tell my brother not to get caught up in the limelight,” he said. “If you play your game you’ll be all right. He’s been in front of scouts before, so I think he’ll be all right.”