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Is Austin Martin Primed For J.J. Bleday-Type Power Surge?

Image credit: Austin Martin (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin has enjoyed a dreamlike sophomore campaign.

Coming into the College World Series, the Commodores third baseman was hitting .410/.503/.610. His 18 stolen bases make him a disruptor once he gets aboard, and with 38 walks compared to 31 strikeouts he has proved himself as a competitor in the box.

In his first taste of CWS baseball, against Louisville on the opening weekend of the event, the biggest stage the college game has to offer, Martin showed no sign of snapping out of it.

On the first pitch from lefthander Reid Detmers, a fastball that just about cut the plate in half at belt height, Martin connected for a missile of a home run well into the left-field bleachers.

It was a tone-setting home run for a guy who has made a habit of setting the tone for the prolific Vanderbilt offense.

“For Austin to lead off with the first pitch for a home run is huge and gives everybody that confidence that they need,” Vanderbilt righthander Drake Fellows said.

Fellows was speaking about this one game specifically, a game in which Martin would later hit a two-run home run and account for all of Vanderbilt’s runs in a 3-1 victory, but he honestly could have been talking about what Martin has provided out of the leadoff spot all season.

Martin’s power surge isn’t a one-game phenomenon. With two home runs against Duke in the third game of the super regional, Martin had four homers in a two-game stretch, which also happened to be the two biggest games of his career to that point.

It might seem like a surprise that a player who had seven career homers prior to the outburst against the Blue Devils found his home run stroke at this time of year. But not for Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who compared Martin’s surge with the jump made by outfielder JJ Bleday.

“It doesn’t really come as a surprise because I think he can get to the middle of the ball consistently, just like JJ,” Corbin said. “But JJ in time learned how to get to the ball and not have to recruit power, and because he didn’t recruit power, then power came to him. And I think (Martin) is learning that.”

That thinking was echoed by Martin himself, who downplayed his power surge.

“I don’t try to think about it too much,” Martin said. “I try to separate every at-bat into a different AB. At the end of the day, you just don’t try to do too much when you’re at the plate. The results will happen.”

Perhaps unlocking his power is just a sign of things to come for Martin, who continues to improve in just about every way.

As a freshman last season, he hit a solid .338/.452/.414. But those numbers are now up across the board.

As far as Corbin is concerned, Martin has made his jump thanks to his development both mentally and academically.

“Doing better academically, centering,” Corbin said. “I mean that. Development of the brain. It’s the one reason kids come to college. I think once you start to understand routine, you start to understand mental organization, then you start to understand what success is, and it’s just doing a lot of small things right on a daily basis. And he’s done that.”

Martin said this type of growth is what he was looking for when he decided on Vanderbilt.

“It’s just good to be able to come here and do school, just try to stick to my routine,” Martin said. “I’ve matured a lot as a person, and I think that’s just something that comes with learning a lot from coach Corbin, as well as the rest of the staff. There’s a lot of upside to coming to school.”

Maybe power is the next thing to develop as Martin climbed from one home run to 10.

Martin has already established himself as a premium pick for the 2020 draft and could have a chance to be picked higher than Bleday, who was selected fourth overall by the Marlins.

It’s probably too much to hope for a Bleday-like jump in power production from one year to the next. Bleday went from four homers in an injury-shortened 2018 season to 26 this year. But given what we’ve seen from Martin over two years, it wouldn’t be a shocking development.

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