Sunday Notes: Corbin Martin’s Path to Arizona Included a Stopover in Alaska

Corbin Martin has had an eventful summer. The 23-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut in mid May, underwent Tommy John surgery in early July, and four days ago he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the blockbuster Zack Greinke deal. Martin came into the season ranked No. 3 on our Houston Astros Top Prospects list.

He didn’t follow a traditional path to the big leagues. Primarily a centerfielder as a Cypress, Texas prep, he didn’t begin pitching in earnest until his second collegiate season. Moreover, he cemented his conversion under the midnight sun, 4,000-plus miles from home.

“When I got to [Texas] A&M, they were like, ‘Hey, we know you pitched a little in high school; do you want to try it out?,’” Martin told me prior to the second of his five big-league starts. “I was like, ‘Sure.’ At first I was kind of frustrated, because I like hitting, but I ended up running away with it.”

Baseball is said to be a marathon, not a sprint, and immediate success wasn’t in the cards. Martin pitched just 18 innings as a freshman, then struggled to the tune of a 5.47 ERA as a sophomore. It wasn’t until his junior year, which was preceded by a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League, that “all the pieces finally came together.”

An earlier summer-ball stint was arguably a more important stepping stone.

“After my [freshman] year, I went to Alaska,” explained Martin. “That’s when I really solidified that I was going to be a pitcher only. It was the first time I was consistently pitching — it’s where I kind of learned how to pitch for real — and when I came back for my sophomore fall, coach [Rob] Childress told me that I would be getting a chance to start at A&M.”

Martin credits Childress for much of his development on the mound, and he was every bit as effusive in his praise of Matt Greely, who was his pitching coach in the Alaska Summer Collegiate League. As for the team that selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft, they obviously played a big role, as well.

“There was no dramatic change after I came to the Astros, but they have cleaned some things up,” said Martin. “I was still kind of raw coming out of college, and they’ve worked with me a lot. Getting drafted by this organization is the best thing that could have happened to me.”

With opportunity in mind, getting dealt to the Diamondbacks may ultimately supplant that supposition. Martin will likely be slotted into Arizona’s starting rotation once he’s back to health and ready to return to a mound. Given that positional uncertainty accompanied him to Alaska just four years ago, that would qualify as a major accomplishment.

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Jack Baker had two cups of coffee with the Red Sox. In 1976, he logged 25 plate appearances as a September call-up. A year later, he had a two-game cameo in June. All told, the now-69-year-old recorded three big-league hits, the first of which cleared the Green Monster.

In terms of opportunities, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Baker was a lumbering first baseman/DH, and in 1976 the Red Sox had Carl Yastrzemski, Cecil Cooper, and Jim Rice rotating between those positions. In 1977, George Scott became the full-time first baseman, with Rice getting the lion’s share of time at DH. As Baker told me recently, “There’s not a lot of room with those guys; I would have put them in there ahead of me.”

He put a lot of balls in the seats down on the farm. Baker homered over 150 times in the minors, including 36 with the Triple-A Rhode Island Red Sox in 1976 (the team officially became the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1977). But again, Baker wasn’t about to replace the likes of Yaz, Rice, Cooper, or Scott on the big-league roster.

The grass wasn’t much greener in Cleveland. Baker was swapped to the Indians prior to the 1978 season, but his new team’s best player was first baseman Andre Thornton, and veteran sluggers Bernie Carbo and Willie Horton were platooning at DH. Approaching the age of 30, with his chances of getting an extended shot growing ever dimmer, he played out the season in Triple-A and then called it a career.

The fact that he reached the big leagues at all was more than just a major accomplishment; it was your classic defy-the-odds accomplishment. Baker noted his atypical path when describing his lone MLB tater.

“Bottom of the second inning, leading off against [Milwaukee’s} Bill Travers, I hit a fastball into the screen,” Baker told me. “I wasn’t sure if I hit it high enough, but it cleared the Monster. For a guy who didn’t start for his high school team, walked on in college, and got drafted in the 26th round, having 30,000 people cheering for me was pretty surreal.”

Baker had been urged to try out for the baseball team at Auburn University, and all these years later he’s offering some encouragement of his own. Involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the past 20 years, he’s accentuating the positives with his own experiences in mind.

“I’d have liked to have had more of a chance to fail, or succeed, on my own,” said Baker. “But it wasn’t the Red Sox’ fault — it was circumstances — so I don’t have any regrets. Looking back, having played for the Red Sox gives me a greater credibility with what I do now. I work with young people, and I talk to people in prison. America loves sports, and that gives me an audience for what I want to share. I’m happy for the opportunity I did get.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Goody Rosen went 5 for 6 against Xavier Rescigno.

Wildfire Schulte went 4 for 6 against Irv Higginbotham.

Pokey Reese went 4 for 6 against John Rocker.

Pat Rockett went 4 for 7 against Mark Lemongello.

Taffy Wright went 32 for 56 against Elden Auker.

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I neglected to include this in last week’s column, and while it’s no longer quite as timely, I’ll do so now.

When the Tampa Bay Rays moved left-hander Adam Kolarek to first base in a game against the Boston Red Sox, there shouldn’t have been any confusion as to the batting order. The rule is fairly straightforward.

When a pitcher moves to a position — this in an American League venue — the DH is lost, and the manager has the option of placing the pitcher in either of two places. In this case, Kevin Cash could have placed Kolarek in the spot occupied by the first baseman, or in the spot occupied by the DH.

The home plate umpire is in possession of the official lineup card, and it is the manager’s responsibility to communicate to him where the pitcher should be placed. If the manager doesn’t do so in a timely fashion, the home plate umpire is to pencil the pitcher into one of the two allowable spots, at his sole discretion.

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Dylan Carlson, a 20-year-old outfielder in the Cardinals system, leads the Double-A Texas League with a .517 slugging percentage. Drafted 33rd overall in 2016, St. Louis’s No. 4 prospect is slashing .286/.366/.517 with the Springfield Cardinals.

Mickey Moniak, a 21-year-old outfielder in the Phillies system, leads the Double-A Eastern League with 10 triples. Drafted first overall in 2016, Philadelphia’s No. 10 prospect is slashing .259/.319/.435, with seven home runs and 14 stolen bases, with the Reading Fighting’ Phils.

Ibandel Isabel, a 24-year-old first baseman in the Cincinnati Reds system, leads the Double-A Southern League with 25 home runs. The Dominican slugger is slashing .245/.310/522 with the Chattanooga Lookouts. He went deep 36 times last year in A-ball.

Ian Anderson, a 21-year-old right-hander in the Braves system, leads the Double-A Southern League with 147 strikeouts. Drafted third overall in 2016, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect has a 2.68 ERA, and has allowed just 82 hits, in 111 innings with the Mississippi Braves.

Daniel McGrath, a 25-year-old left-hander in the Red Sox system, leads the Double-A Eastern League (minimum 80 innings pitched) with a 2.12 ERA. A native of Melbourne, Australia. McGrath has 78 strikeouts, and has allowed just 48 hits.

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Rochester Red Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel has shared a few stories here in recent years. Here is another, from a game played in Toledo, in 2012:

Something people ask me a lot is, ‘What’s the longest game you’ve ever broadcast,” said Whetzel. “I’m pretty sure the answer is 19 innings. Well, by around the 15th inning or so, nature had taken its course and I needed to use the restroom. Keep in mind, I’m doing this game by myself, so there is no one to bail me out. It wouldn’t have been a big issue if they’d had a bathroom in the  press box, but after a renovation of the suite level they no longer have a restroom in the press box — you have to go to one of the public restrooms down in the suite-level concourse.

“The inning came to an end, so I threw down my headset as soon as I’d toss it into a break. I began racing down the hallway, weaving my way through fans like O.J. Simpson in that Samsonite commercial, then quickly did my business in the bathroom. Then I sprinted back down the hallway, into the press box, and into the booth just in time for the next inning to begin.

“Keep in mind, that I only have one lung—which is another story— so I’m pretty much out of breath. I’m hoping that the first hitter of the inning will take a few pitches, to allow me to kind of catch my breath. Instead, the Red Wings’ hitter whacked a single toward one of the gaps, and through huffs and puffs I did my best to describe it. For a second, I literally thought I might pass out from lack of oxygen. Fortunately, I didn’t.

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Randy Jones’s storytelling was among the highlights of SABR49, which was held in San Diego in late June. The former Padres pitcher shared this one about his first-ever MLB start, which came against the Braves on June 22, 1973.

“In the very first inning, Hank Aaron hit a 2-1 pitch about 10 rows up in left center,” recalled Jones. “He made it look easy. I was like, ‘Here we go.’ And you’ve got to remember that five days before that I made my first relief appearance, against the Mets. I gave up my first big-league hit, which was a home run to Willie Mays. They still haven’t found that baseball.”

Jones was joking about the balls not being found. Not only that, both are in his possession. One is signed by Aaron, the other by Mays.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oona Goodin-Smith wrote about how the Phillies are suing to keep their mascot from becoming a free agent.

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote about how Troy Tulowitzki is ready to be a teacher, not a student, of the game.

Over at Sports Illustrated, Ben Pickman told us about the time Luis Tiant was traded for 500 teddy bears.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jeff McNeill leads the National League with a .331 batting average. A 12th-round pick in 2013, the New York Mets infielder has a .330/.388/.491 slash line in 648 career plate appearances.

In 1969, no pitcher who threw 40-or-more innings had a K/9 of 10 or higher. So far this season, 79 different pitchers have thrown 40-or-more innings and have a K/9 of 10 or higher.

Counting the postseason, Reggie Jackson had 2,662 hits and struck out 2,667 times.

In 22 MLB seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs, walked 2,558 times, and struck out 1,539 times. In 22 NPB seasons, Sadaharu Oh hit 868 home runs, walked 2,390 times, struck out 1,319 times.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage took the mound for four teams during his playing days. In his lone season with the New York Mets, Searage won his only decision and got a hit in his only plate appearance.

The 1912 Pittsburgh Pirates hit 222 doubles, 129 triples, and 39 home runs. Chief Wilson legged out an MLB-record 36 three-baggers that season, while 38-year-old Honus Wagner added 20 more.

Gordon Rhodes pitched from 1929-1936 and had a record of 43-74 with a 4.85 ERA. Babe Ruth went 1 for 21 against Rhodes.

On this date in 1963, Roger Craig lost his 18th-consecutive decision as the New York Mets lost to the Milwaukee Braves by a score of 2-1. Craig was 2-20 following the defeat, and finished the season 5-22 with a 3.78 ERA.

Hosea Siner recorded the first of this three career hits on August 5, 1909. The Brooklyn Doves infielder singled off of Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown.

The only Finnish-born player in MLB history is John Michaelson, a native of Taivalkoski who appeared in two games with the White Sox in 1921. There have been three Norwegian-born players: John Anderson (Sarpsborg; six teams from 1894-1908), Arndt Jorgens (Modum; Yankees 1929-1939), and Jimmy Wiggs (Trondhjem; Reds and Tigers 1903-1906). This closing note celebrates the fact that I am currently vacationing in Finland, with Norway next on the itinerary.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Corbin Martin’s Path to Arizona Included a Stopover in Alaska by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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thedirt17
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thedirt17

Not to be pedantic, but the town Martin is from is actually spelled Cypress (only reason I’m pointing it out is because I’m from there)