If we have learned anything from the Princeton Rays this season, it is that we shouldn't expect the infield to look the same every day – except at shortstop.
Shortstop Brandon Martin, a first round pick in 2011, is in his second professional season after spending last season in the Gulf Coast League. He entered the year with a small taste – 19 games to be exact – of professional baseball under his belt, and he has already surpassed that this year by playing in 25 of Princeton's 27 games this season.The 18-year old Martin is hitting .260 this season with a .324 on base percentage as the leadoff hitter for Princeton. He has a unique batting stance in which he calmly stands upright until the pitch arrives, at which point he quickly moves into position to hit the ball. He can hit the ball in the gap and he is a smart runner on the bases with speed, which has helped him in hitting five doubles and three triples.
There are high expectations for the shortstop, who was drafted 38th overall, but he is no stranger to this. Just before he was drafted, Baseball America ranked him as the third best high school shortstop. He handles the pressure as if he is just another player on the team.
"It was an accomplishment to be drafted in the first round," he said. "It was one goal I shot for, but now it is just like I am with everybody else."
Martin is clearly an essential part of the Rays' plans for the future, as evidenced by his daily presence on the lineup card at shortstop. The organization had him participate in the Rays' Winter Development Program this past winter, a special camp for the top prospects, which took place at Tropicana Field. He said the program was for the team to see how well he had been doing in the offseason.
Now that the off-season has passed and the new season has kicked into gear, he has been adjusting to the challenges of playing at a higher level of professional ball. It is a sharp contrast from just a year ago, when he was playing high school ball.
"The competition is much better here," he said. "Overall I have gotten better both defensively and offensively."
The key to Martin's success this season and in the past has been to keep a routine and stick with it. With it being his first full professional season, he also has taken extra steps to make sure he has energy for each night's game.
"My plan has been to sleep all day and hit the ball hard at night," he laughed. "But I mainly just try to get as much rest as possible since we play every day."
Whatever the recipe for Martin's success, the Rays hope it continues to work. The organization makes sure their top prospects are in the lineup every day, regardless of how they are playing. Everyday outfielder James Harris, Jr. was a first round pick but he is only hitting .183 this season.
At the end of the day, these players are only teenagers and the organization knows that they need to be careful with how they handle them going forward.
But so far, the Rays have to like what they see from the young Martin.
Matt Tracy is the Princeton beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewtracy.
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