Austin Martin Prepares To 'Anchor' Vanderbilt Title Defense
Austin Martin is always competing on the diamond. No matter what situation the Vanderbilt junior finds himself in, he attacks the game at full speed, always ready to make something happen.
Martin wants to win every play, every pitch, every situation, whether that happens to be the College World Series or in non-conference play.
“The one thing that makes him so unique is he plans and simply competes against the ball,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “If the ball is hit, he wants to catch it. If the ball is thrown, he wants to catch it. If the ball is thrown at him and he has a bat, he wants to hit it.
“He just competes against the ball as well as any player I’ve seen.”
That mentality had Martin prepared for a whirlwind 2019. As a sophomore, he helped Vanderbilt win the national championship by hitting .392/.486/.604 with 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He moved to third base, a new position for him. He led the Southeastern Conference in batting. He was the only underclassmen to be named an All-American.
Martin had just two days to celebrate following the national championship before he and closer Tyler Brown were on a plane to Cary, N.C., to join USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team for its summer tour, which soon took them to Taiwan and Japan. Martin moved to center field for Team USA, helping to fill a hole left by injury, and continued to star.
Martin got a bit of a break this fall. He had to take things easy while he recovered from a cleanup procedure in his knee. While he was sidelined, he turned into an extra coach at fall practice, helping his teammates with everything from hitting to baserunning to defense. Despite not playing, by the end of the fall, he had become one of the favorites to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
While Martin was well regarded coming out of high school in Jacksonville and had a Freshman All-America season in 2018, it was still a rapid rise in 2019. For his prospect status and fame, anyway. Martin remains firmly planted on the ground, just as he always has been.
“I really don’t try to pay attention to that stuff,” Martin said. “There’s no point to me even trying to do too much, think too much. I’m focused on trying to get better, trying to have fun out there, trying to win ballgames. That’s really where I’m at right now.”
“He’s not one of those kids who’s going to start attending the Austin Martin church,” Corbin said. “He knows who he is, and he’s not going to drink that water.”
As big as 2019 was for Martin, 2020 figures to blow it out of the water. Scouting directors voted him a unanimous first-team Preseason All-American at third base and he is the centerpiece of the Commodores’ offense as they embark on their quest to repeat as national champions. He’s among the favorites for the Player of the Year award, and there’s the small matter of the draft waiting in June.
But for Martin, it really isn’t about him. He’s most concerned with the team’s results and developments. For a lot of players, that attitude might be cliché, an easy line to repeat because it makes them seem unselfish, but with Martin it’s real.
Corbin said Martin and ace Kumar Rocker, who was a projected first-round pick in 2018 but instead upheld his commitment to Vanderbilt and went on to be named Most Outstanding Player at the 2019 College World Series, share a group-oriented mentality.
“If they weren’t, I daresay both of them probably would not be here right now,” Corbin said. “I think they would probably play professional baseball. But these kids understand that when they do something for a group effort, they individually grow as much as anything..”
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Martin loved being able to help his teammates improve this fall, and Corbin said he sees a teacher’s spirit in his star. Martin would get to practice early this fall and stay late to help his teammates in the batting cage.
But he also just enjoys being around his teammates and the atmosphere they have cultivated at Vanderbilt.
“Being able to hang out with these guys 24/7 is something I’ve never been able to experience before,” Martin said. “I literally do everything with these guys. I can honestly say I have 34 best friends on this team.”
While Martin has nothing but love for his teammates, he is always competing when he’s on the field. That desire to win and get better is a big part of what has made him so successful.
“It’s what he brings to the field every day,” Rocker said. “It’s what I hope the whole team should bring to the field every day, and that’s a dog mentality. He comes out here and balls every day. It’s simple.”
To Corbin, Martin’s competitiveness is part of what makes him so versatile defensively. Because he is so determined to succeed, he raises the level of any unit he’s a part of. His tools probably profile best in center field, but he has made himself into a strong third baseman.
Martin is sure to be working hard all spring to get himself in the best position to help Vanderbilt get back to Omaha and become the first team to repeat as national champions since South Carolina did so in 2010 and 2011. He surely wants to follow in the footsteps of former Commodores David Price and Dansby Swanson and become the first overall pick in June.
But he won’t do it by looking inwardly or thinking about his own future. He’s going to keep challenging his teammates, keep thinking about the group first and—most importantly—keep competing.
“As long as I put all my focus and energy into the team and to every other guy on this team and to winning ballgames, everything will take care of itself,” Martin said. “That’s really all I’m worried about.”