Martin to manage his No. 1 ranking

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, November 3, 2018
Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin throws out a UALR baserunner during the Razorbacks baseball scrimmage against UALR on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at Gary Hogan Field in Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin throws out a UALR baserunner during the Razorbacks baseball scrimmage against UALR on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at Gary Hogan Field in Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The 2019 college baseball season is more than three months from starting, but the website D-I Baseball already is projecting players for the 2020 Major League Draft.

University of Arkansas infielder Casey Martin, a sophomore from Lonoke, is D-I Baseball's pick as the top college prospect when he'll be draft eligible as a junior in 2020.

"It's definitely pretty cool," Martin said earlier this fall. "It's something I've worked for my whole life. That's part of why everybody comes here to play.

"But you've still got to go back out and play just like last year. It's one day at a time. Hard work in the weight room, on the field, fielding ground balls, taking [batting practice]."

As a freshman, Martin played primarily third base and had a team-high .345 batting average along with 13 home runs and 45 RBI to help the Razorbacks finish second to Oregon State at the College World Series. He also stole eight bases in nine attempts.

"Well, it's like I told Casey, it just means you have to work a lot harder because there's nowhere to go but down," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Friday when asked about D-I Baseball's draft projection for Martin. "It just goes on your tools -- running, throwing, hitting, hitting for power. Just grading them out a little bit.

"I just think it puts a little pressure on the kid, but it gives us an opportunity to talk to him about it early and what's going to happen in the future, expectations for your junior year. You just need to keep your head down and grind it out and not worry about all of that stuff."

Van Horn said he expects Martin to play shortstop in 2019, with junior Jack Kenley starting at third base.

"But it could change," he said.

Van Horn said Martin's skills and quickness make him the best option to replace Jax Biggers -- who is now playing in the Texas Rangers' organization after being an eighth-round draft pick -- as Arkansas' shortstop.

"Casey just has so much range," Van Horn said. "He may have the best range of anyone in the country.

"Then when you get the ball, what can you do with it? Well, he can still throw you out from the hole or he can throw you out from way behind second base because of his arm strength."

Van Horn said Martin did some memorable things in fall practice, but he wasn't outstanding overall.

"His fall -- and I think he would tell you the same thing-- was just average," Van Horn said. "I thought he fielded the ball pretty well, threw the ball well. He made some plays in scrimmages, and you just kind of scratch your head and go, 'Wow. Not too many guys can do that at this level.'

"Offensively, he got off to a really slow start, but kicked it into gear toward the end, and I think he'll pick it up from here on."

Van Horn said the fact Martin didn't play in the summer probably affected his batting.

"But he has so much talent. It's more about technique a little bit, trying to stay through the middle of the field," Van Horn said. "We feel like from now until the season starts, this is a big time for him to really just work on things."

Martin played in 67 games -- including 62 starts -- last season while outfielder Heston Kjerstad -- projected by D-I Baseball as the No. 12 college prospect for the 2020 draft -- started all 69 games as a freshman.

Van Horn had Kjerstad sit out summer baseball along with Martin.

"I think it was probably good for both of them," Van Horn said. "They both came back strong and mentally fresh. They'll both be better for it."

Martin said he focused on lifting weights in the summer and took some batting practice with Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson, but after a couple of weeks he missed playing.

"It was kind of boring," Martin said. "You have nothing to do. Everybody else is out playing ball and enjoying it, and I'm just kind of stuck here not doing much.

"But I think we definitely needed a break, and I'm glad we got it."

Sports on 11/03/2018

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