'Hitting For Average Is My No. 1': How Robby Martin's Hit Tool, Approach Drive His Success
Who’s more equipped to evaluate Robby Martin than the man himself?
The lefthanded-hitting Florida State outfielder can bring a more detailed background, in-depth insight and experience to the table than anyone, so it would seem a no-brainer to tap into that resource. Martin knows his strengths, the areas he’s working to improve, and what has led him to success.
Breaking down his toolset, Martin ranks his assets in an order atypical to any generic position profile. First, of course, is the plus hit tool, which is followed by an arm that saw the 21-year-old drafted as a pitcher out of high school in the late rounds of the 2018 draft. Typical hit-first profiles are saved for players manning second, third or left. The only generic position profile with the arm at the top of the tool box is that of a catcher. Martin has exclusively been playing right field for the Seminoles this year.
“Hitting for average is my No. 1,” said Martin, the No. 76-ranked draft prospect. “What I usually focus on the majority of the time I’m at the plate or throughout the season is just trying to be consistent with the bat. No. 2 is arm strength in the outfield. No. 3, defense, and then hitting for power and then speed. Speed’s still last, even though that’s what I’ve been working on. It’s improved and I feel personally a lot faster. We haven’t run many 60s to test it but working in the outfield for quick bursts, I feel an increase.”
Narrowing down on what that hit tool can do and how he continues to use it to find success, Martin believes that when he’s hitting well, or when he’s not, his approach is where the credit—or the blame—lies.
“Ever since high school I’ve kept my mechanics the same, so for me it’s about my approach,” he said. “When things are going well, I’m thinking up the middle, back side, and staying on the ball as long as possible. If I ever get in trouble, it definitely tends to be because my approach is off.”
When Martin finds himself needing to get back on track, more often than not some extended time in the cage with a tee, along with the neverending confidence his teammates and coaches have in him, is all he needs. Whether he’s having trouble getting to a certain part of the zone or with a particular pitch type, or he just can’t seem to catch fire, the path to success is usually the same.
“One thing I’ve always tried to work on is trying to keep my bat in the zone as long as possible,” the Tampa native said. “I do that a lot during tee work, trying to keep my bat in the zone for every pitch, moving the tee around. That’s one of the things that I work on the most, and I know it really helps me when I’m doing well, trying to keep the bat in the zone as long as possible.
“The feedback (from that) is definitely a feel thing. You feel it in batting practice, certain pitches you might be fouling back or slicing or not hitting them how you want to. And whenever I feel good and my bat’s in the zone as long as possible, I can cover every part of the zone. (That looks like) more consistent hard contact and less swings and misses.
“That’s definitely something I’ve noticed in games. Whenever my bat’s in the zone longer, and that’s really what I’m working on, I feel in the games leads to fewer strikeouts and fewer swings and misses on pitches that I’m normally on.”
To go with the arm strength that Martin named as his second-best tool is the accuracy he has with his throws. He takes pride in both and doesn’t believe he would have success with just one and not the other.
“It doesn’t do any good to have a really strong arm but be all over the place with it,” Martin said. “It’s almost like a pitcher not being able to have control, so that’s huge. You don’t always have to have the strongest arm to throw guys out or make plays, because arm accuracy is just as important as whatever your velocity is that you’re throwing from the outfield.”
With a limited number of chances to make plays in game action, Martin and his fellow outfielders rely heavily on reading balls off the bat in batting practice, because those coming from a fungo just aren’t the same when it comes to working on first-step quickness, routes or reads. But he believes his game has come a long way, with significant help from assistant coach Tyler Holt.
“Shagging balls off the bat in batting practice is different (than games),” Martin said. “But something we really work on at Florida State with our outfield coach is doing a lot of short box drills. It’s really only running 10 yards at a time but we’re working on that first step and the instincts of reading the ball off the bat, or if he’s throwing to us in a certain direction, making sure we’re taking the right angles to the ball. It’s really helped in that area even though it’s a lot different than reading balls off the bat.
“Throughout the entire fall is when we really get after it in the outfield, when we’re doing a lot of the individual work … Coming into it after not playing games, the first week you feel a little bit off and those routes aren’t as good and the angles you’re taking aren’t as efficient, but getting those reps every day nonstop helps me see an increase in efficiency.”
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Though he believes he is certainly capable of doing damage and hitting homers, Martin doesn’t consider himself a power hitter. Instead, he thinks of himself as a guy who hits for average, a barrel-to-ball player who has some natural power.
“People like power with the way the game is changing a little bit,” he said. “People definitely want to see power numbers but staying consistent to what I do in my approach and making consistent contact, and just allowing for that power to happen is where the power numbers will come from. I’m not trying to force it.
“I try to stay consistent with what I do and not change too much up because that’s where you can get in trouble with yourself. If you’ve had success with what you’ve done, then changing it can lead to problems. If I try to go out there and hit a certain number of homers just to show power numbers or something like that, that’s where I would get myself in trouble. If the power numbers happen by making good swings and good contact, then they happen.”
After a freshman season spent mostly at DH, and adjusting to the college meal plan, Martin gained a significant amount of weight that “definitely wasn’t on purpose.” The combination of getting a chance in the outfield accompanied by his desire to stay there led to an even more significant slim down—to the tune of about 30 pounds—and in the process of leaning out his 6-foot-3 frame to a tidy 200 pounds, Martin made some gains to his run tool.
“I felt better,” he said. “It felt easier to move, I became more flexible and lighter on my feet, which helped with speed. And I actually saw an increase in strength in certain things, and it allowed me to move better and be more explosive.”
In addition to speed, Martin has found success in his instincts on the basepaths as well as in the field.
“Something I definitely have always taken a lot of pride in is baserunning,” he said. “You don’t have to be the fastest runner to be a good baserunner. Instincts with dirt-ball reads and stuff like that are things I take pride in; not being the fastest but always trying to take that extra base. Also on defense in the outfield, getting a good jump on the ball and taking good routes, you don’t always have to make up speed to do that, but speed obviously helps.”
Moving forward, Martin is confident in his tools and the success they’ve led him to thus far, while always keeping an open mind to anything that might help him improve.
“I just need to continue learning about myself as a player,” Martin said. “There’s always room for growth and learning. So continuing to stay on top of my approach—I talked about changing your approach and how that can hurt you and sometimes I do that to myself a little bit. Continuing to get better every day at what I do personally will help me continue to the next level potentially.”