Unlikely method spurs Martin's breakout

To improve after an inconsistent sophomore season, Florida shortstop Richie Martin turned to a book about tennis.

Recently ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the 2015 MLB Draft, he didn’t look like it as a sophomore during the 2014 season. Martin hit .265 and made a team-high 21 errors. His issues in the field plagued him throughout the year. The shortstop made the spectacular play that caught the eye of scouts, but the routine plays often ended up being an adventure.

Martin’s .265 batting average wasn’t anything spectacular, and he hit .224 against Southeastern Conference opponents. But professional scouts saw more. They saw the elite range at shortstop and the cannon for an arm. They saw a line drive swing and a body that would only get stronger.

For Martin, the tools never matched the production in his first two years on campus, but that changed over the offseason. Heading into his junior year when he was draft eligible, Martin spoke to some friends, coaches and other players about improving the mental aspect of his game. Multiple people recommended that he read The Inner Game of Tennis.

The recommendation didn’t make much sense at first, but the shortstop quickly learned that the book’s lessons truly have more to do with the mental aspect of sports than it does the game of tennis.

“The first person told me to read that and I was like ‘are you serious?’ I actually read it, and I’m telling you that thing was a game-changer for me,” Richie Martin said.

Overthinking caused problems. When the ball was hit to him during the 2014 season, Martin’s mind was running as fast as possible and forced him into mistakes that someone with his talent shouldn’t have produced.

After serving as Florida’s starting shortstop for his first two years on campus, Martin knew he had to overcome some of the mental issues if he wanted to take his game to the next level.

“One of the big things that helped me is realizing that your mind can affect you so much in any sport,” Martin said. “I tried to tame the thinking and thought process when you’re out there competing. Sometimes you can think about things too much. (The book) is more about relaxing and not getting in the way of yourself, just going out there and playing. It was about tennis, but you can really apply it to any sport or even anything like writing or math. It’s about just staying out of your way.”

This summer, it all came together.

Martin went to the Cape Cod League, joining all the other elite prospects in college baseball in the wood bat league, and showed the offensive potential that has always been there. He was second in the entire league and set the Bourne Braves’ record with a .364 batting average. He was also first in the league with 59 hits and 36 runs scored. Martin also showcased the speed with 17 stolen bases and reached base in the team’s final 39 games.

He catapulted himself into the conversation as a first round draft pick in 2015. Joining MLB.com, ESPN’s Keith Law also listed him as a first round pick when his rankings were released in the fall. The MLB Draft community that once fell in love with his tools got a chance to see what Martin could do when it came together in the summer, and he now has a chance to solidify himself as a top prospect if he can have a strong spring.

“He has prepared a tremendous amount to perform at that level, and he has done it day in, day out,” said Florida center fielder Harrison Bader, who was Martin’s teammate with the Bourne Braves in the summer. “He’s doing everything he can to carry it over. He has always been the hardest worker I’ve always been around, and he’s always here as early as can be. He’s going to do some work this year.”

The other appeal Martin brings to the table is his age. He turned 20 years old at the end of December, while most three-year college players are 21 years old when they are taken in the MLB Draft. He was 17 years old when he enrolled at Florida and a little behind the normal development curve simply because of his youth.

The junior also added 10 pounds in the offseason, practicing at 195 pounds with the same speed and agility as the Gators prepare for the February 13 opener against Rhode Island.

The physical part of the game is important for Martin and has improved, but it’s only a small piece of his development.

“I’ve seen growth,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He has always been a great player and hard worker, but he just turned 20. He’ll probably be one of the youngest players in the draft this year. He had a great summer, great fall and he’s off to a great start this spring.

“For us to get to where we need to get to, he needs to have a great spring and I fully expect him to do that.”

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