By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A little more than a year ago Brandon Martin was a high school student at Santiago High School in Corona, Calif., playing baseball and going to Los Angeles Angels’ games with his friends.
Fast forward the clock about 13 months and Martin is playing pro ball, the starting shortstop for the Princeton Rays.
In those 13 months Martin has played in the Gulf Coast League and had extended spring training in Florida prior to his current gig with the Rays. He is taking it all in stride, enjoying and learning as he climbs the ladder called baseball.
“It’s great to come here. It’s a big difference coming from the Gulf Coast League last year, up to here,” Martin commented. “You have better competition, you’re playing in a better environment, you’ve got fans and playing under the lights. It gives you that extra edge to come out here and you always try to give it your best. It’s a great feeling.”
Martin was a first round pick of the Rays in the 2011 draft. He knew he would go in the draft, but was unsure when and where. When the call came he was pleased.
“It was pretty much a relief (to get drafted). I was at home, I had a few of my friends over, a couple of family members, my agent, so when my name was called, it was like a relief,” Martin said. “I was ready to get my season started and start my career.”
A speedster with a strong arm, good range and the willingness to learn, Princeton manager Michael Johns said that those are the qualities needed to make it in the game and eventually to the majors.
“He’s got big tools. He’s got a really good arm, he’s got good hands, good speed, good quickness, everything it takes to be a good shortstop,” Johns noted. “At the plate he’s done a really nice job hitting leadoff, which is not easy in this league.”
Headed into Saturday night’s game against Danville, Martin was batting .269. He is tied for the team lead with two homers, leads the team with three triples, is tied for second on the squad with 11 RBIs and has stolen five bases. Martin talked about his first professional home run that came earlier in the season.
“It felt great coming off the bat. I got a pitch down and in, I put a good swing on it and it went out,” Martin explained. “It was a good feeling, trotting around those bases.”
Martin said he has received a lot of assistance from Rays hitting coach Reinaldo Ruiz.
“Rey does a good thing with me,” Martin said. “We’ve got a routine going every day in the cages and we just try to do the same thing every day, not be too persistent on everything, just try to do the same thing every day.”
As a shortstop Martin has many chances in the field, but so far this season has committed only four errors. Johns said he’s seen the young ball player grow since he first came in contact with him last fall, to today.
“From Instructional League last year in October, until today, it’s night and day what he has done,” Johns noted. “It’s a credit to him and how much hard work he puts in.
“He was a very raw fielder and he had some funky actions, but you could always see he had the tools, the bat speed and the foot speed, and arm strength and you just need to tap into that and he’s done that. He’s making routine plays, which is all we need out of a shortstop, and he’ll also make some really good plays. He’s got such a good arm. He’s made a lot of adjustments and if he can continue to make those adjustments, he’s got a chance to be a big leaguer.”
Martin is willing to do the work. He said the hardest adjustments to professional baseball are new teammates and playing every day.
“You’ve got new guys coming in and that’s an adjustment, just hanging out with them, and playing every day is a grind. I just try to stay healthy and that’s pretty much it.
“You’ve got to love the sport,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be in it, to win it. You’ve got to be in it 100 percent. You’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to have the mental toughness to do it. It’s not going to be easy.”
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org