A year ago, the Phillies spent their first pick in the draft on UNLV shortstop Bryson Stott.
On Thursday night, the team spent its second pick in this year’s draft on University of Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin.
While some might see a potential logjam at the position — the Phils are also high on shortstop prospect Luis Garcia from the Dominican Republic — scouting director Brian Barber saw an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I don’t believe any organization can have too many quality shortstops,” Barber said. “And athletes who are able to play shortstop are generally able to play other positions, as well. Opportunities will be plentiful for everyone.”
Needless to say, the players who perform best in those opportunities will advance.
Barber did not anticipate selecting Martin at the outset of Thursday’s draft action, which included rounds two through five. The Phils forfeited their second-round pick after signing Zack Wheeler. They got Martin in the third round, 87th overall.
“We didn’t think he’d be there when the day started,” Barber said. “We didn’t want him to get by us when the opportunity presented itself. There was no way we could pass up his combination of tools.”
Martin, 5-11, 175 pounds, has speed, power and arm strength. He hit 30 homers in 572 at-bats over two-plus seasons at Arkansas. His junior season came to an end after 15 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A right-handed bat, Martin hit .345 as a freshman but slipped to .287 as a sophomore and .271 in this year’s abbreviated season.
Martin was pegged as a first-round talent after his freshman season and even by some coming into this draft, but he slipped because of questions about his bat. The most common knock on Martin is that he’s too aggressive in his approach.
“I don’t know the specifics of what all 29 other teams were thinking internally,” Barber said. “I don’t know if it was a lack of belief in the hit tool.
“He’s an exciting, quick-twitch athlete who is full of tools. Any time we can get middle-of-the-field players who competed at a high level like the SEC with speed and power, we’re going to be in it.
“We got a lot of looks at him his freshman year when he lit it up and we believe in the hit tool. We’re super excited to have him.”
Barber revealed that Martin had surgery for a hamate bone issue last fall. The hamate bone sits at the base of the hand and problems with it can hurt a hitter.
Martin isn’t the first college player to slip in a draft. Once upon a time, a big slugger from Missouri State was mentioned as a potential first-rounder. The player struggled his junior season and fell to the fifth round, where the Phillies, even though their draft room was split, took a chance. That player led the league in homers twice, RBIs three times and won a rookie of the year and MVP award — Ryan Howard.
Martin possesses plenty of versatility. He can play third base, second base and center field. Sounds a little like Scott Kingery.
The draft was cut from 40 to five rounds because of the pandemic. The Phillies got some balance in their four picks.
The team selected “the best high school arm in the draft,” when it tabbed Mick Abel with the 15th overall pick.
After Martin, the team took two more college players, pitcher Carson Ragsdale out of the University of South Florida in the fourth round and power hitter Baron Radcliff out of Georgia Tech in the fifth round.
The Phillies don’t anticipate any problems signing any of these players. Bryce Harper personally welcomed all four to the organization with a FaceTime call.
“That was an unbelievable thing to take the time and effort to reach out and congratulate those guys,” Barber said. “It was exciting for all of them.”
The Phillies dedicated the draft to Will Brunson, a member of their scouting staff who died at age 49 in the fall. Brunson, who pitched in the majors, covered south Texas for the Phillies.
The Phillies scouting staff will look to add more players in the coming days. Draft eligible players who were not selected in the abbreviated draft can be signed for $20,000 beginning Sunday.
“Nobody knows how it’s going to work out,” Barber said. “We’ve been super aggressive accumulating information, reaching out to players, getting a list together. We don’t know how many are willing to sign or want to sign but we’ll be aggressive.”
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