Hickory Crawdads’ starting pitcher Brett Martin hasn’t put up the flashy numbers that his fellow rotation members have this season. However, they’re nothing to sneeze at either for a 20-year-old in his first full season, having posted a 3.31 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 68 innings (14 starts).
The native of Morristown, Tenn has for the most part been a steady presence on the mound much of the season, missing a lone start this year because of a brief bout with a sore back.
Martin was the fourth-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of Walters St. Community College in Tenn. in June of 2014. His 6-foot-4, 190 lbs. (listed weight) build has room to fill out, but he uses the frame to present a tall, almost like a town-square military-like figure on the mound
A scout I talked with after his start on July 16 vs. Greensboro raved about how the tall frame was imposing as the fastball (93-95 in his last start) shot from over the top and downward. Martin will occasionally cut the fastball and mix in a sharp curve and a developing changeup that is gaining his confidence.
Like most pitchers starting professionally, Martin is looking to establish who he is as a pitcher. He can bring a seven-inning, six-strikeout game on occasion, but Martin is content to pitch to contact and let his defense work behind him. When he stays at that mindset, the opposition is usually in for a long night. When he doesn’t, it’s a quick night.
Such as has been the case in his last three starts. On July 3 against Greenville – the South Atlantic League’s best hitting team – Martin carried a two-hitter into the seventh before the defense cost him the game. He only struck out three, but got 11 ground ball outs in 6.2 innings. In the next start at Lakewood, a barrage of liners sent him to the showers after recording s season-low of five outs.
In the Greensboro start, he cruised much of the night before tiring in the seventh with five strikeouts. It was how he got through the seventh that impressed Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, who managed the game in place of Corey Ragsdale.
After Martin gave up a walk and RBI double in the inning, Clark made a quick visit to the mound, knowing Martin was likely out of gas. Martin was left in and gassed a 92 mph fastball up-and-away to the right-handed Rony Cabrera for an easy flyout.
“I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh,” Clark said. “I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.”
Clark said that Martin has the ability to have a stellar career in the future.
“Brett’s got a very high ceiling,” said Clark. “What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.”
I talked with Martin after his start at Lakewood about his season and the development of his stuff, as well his consistency.
First of all, give me your feedback on how you think your season is going overall.
Martin: As far as the season is going, it’s doing well right now. I have my ups and downs and I’m trying to work through all of that. I just try to stay consistent with the things the help me get better as the season goes along. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of pitcher I am and trying to hone my craft and stay consistent for the most part.
You talked about figuring out what kind of pitcher you are, how has that progressed for you this season? What are you figuring out about yourself at this point?
Martin: Just staying within myself and doing what I am capable of doing. I’m not trying to go up on the mound and be like a power pitcher that throws 98. I’m just staying within myself and throwing the ball over the plate, throwing strikes and letting the defense play defense. That’s what I’ve figured out that worked for me, so why change?
What have you been working on as far as your stuff since this time last year?
Martin: Staying more consistent with throwing strikes and like I said, throwing the ball over the plate. My offspeeds have come a long way. I’ve been able to trust it and use it in any count. Like last year, when I’d get into a 3-2 count you’d call a changeup, I had a hard time wanting to throw it. This year, I’m not afraid to throw it on any count. I have a lot more confidence in all of my pitches.
You’ve talked about being more consistent and that’s one of the things I’ve wanted to ask you about. You’ve had a couple of starts where you’ve had two-hitters over seven innings. Then you had a start that was headed that way in the Greenville game that got away from you. The next start at Lakewood wasn’t probably what you wanted it to be. What’s been the fine line for you to have success or not?
Martin: Just staying within myself and trusting my stuff. Last night, I just didn’t have it. I did the best I could, but sometimes you don’t have it, no matter what you do. It was just one of those nights. It’s in the past now, so you’ve just got to get to the next start.
Can you tell at a given point when it is going to be a night that you don’t have it?
Martin: Not really. I think you’re just kind of blind until go time when you’re actually out on the mound and you find out if your stuff is good or not. You can throw a really good bullpen and not miss one spot. That doesn’t really mean much until you get out on the mound and start pitching, because it’s go time right then.
I know the first full season is a big milestone for you guys. What have you been able to figure out to help you get through the long haul as far as your arm, your body and stuff like that?
Martin: It’s a marathon and not a sprint, so just being careful with the arm and make sure we do all of our arm care and just staying healthy and making sure we do what we need to do other than throwing, like working out and other stuff like that. Taking care of our business and I think we’ll be fine. It’s such a long season and so you can’t really try to do too much while you’re in season and get tired out from that. We’ve still got a couple of more months left.
You went to Walters State, which has turned out a few guys – one of those was Chad Bell who pitched here. Tell me about the program and what that program has turned out and what you learned from that in becoming a pro?
Martin: As near as I can remember, I always knew they were good. When I was coming up in high school, they were good and I knew that they had been.
We had a good season. There were three other guys that were drafted along with me. Brent Honeywell went to the Rays and there were two other guys that decided to go back for another year. One went to Alabama, as a matter of fact. They had a lot this year that were drafted as well and had some guys go to bigger D-1 colleges. What they’ve done there, they’ve figured it out.
At the end of the year, what does a successful year look like for you?
Martin: Winning the playoffs is our main goal – trying to take the championship is our main goal – but we each have our individual goals. I want to finish the season strong and healthy and to show that I have done something to better myself as a pitcher.
When you get a call to the major leagues, what will that mean to you and who will it mean the most to?
Martin: Shoot. That’s still a few years away, but we all dream about it. If that does ever happen, it’ll be a dream come true. It’ll probably mean the most to my family, but I will appreciate it as much as they did. But that’s still a ways a way and I want to focus on now and try to make the most of now.
Will there be something that you will look back on – maybe a weightlift, an outing or maybe a tough time – that you’ll say that this was worth it?
Martin: Yeah. When I was at Tennessee, I was hurt (shoulder tendinitis). I couldn’t really pitch and I was kind of down on myself – not to where I was wanting to give up, but I was like, ‘this sucks; this is tough’ and I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it back, or if I did, that I wouldn’t be pitching well.
When I was hurt, I was still busting my butt doing everything I can to get back healthy again, where I could’ve just laid down and quit.