As a big fan of pitchers who display a quality three-pitch mix early in their careers, Corbin Martin was a player that immediately caught my eye when the Astros selected him in round 2 of the 2017 draft. The Astros have shown a proclivity for drafting Aggies starters such as Martin, having hit on Daniel Mengden (now of the Oakland A’s) during the Luhnow regime, and thus far Martin looks like he is on a similar path. The 22 year old righty has a typical pitcher’s build, a bit on the smaller side for a starter at 6’2”, 200 lbs., and sports a four-pitch mix built around a deadly fastball/slider combination.
Martin certainly impressed in his first taste of pro ball in 2017, but it was an abbreviated look- just 32.2 IP at rookie and short-season levels. Impressed by his strong start, the Astros were quite aggressive with him in 2018, starting him off at Buies Creek where he ended up throwing just 19 frames- in which he struck out 26 and walked 7- before he was promoted again to Corpus Christi where he would spend the rest of the season. In Double-A, Martin failed to show the same level of dominance in the strikeout department that he did in lower levels, but considering the overall lack of experience he had in the low minors, that isn’t a surprise. His performance overall was very encouraging- in 103 innings with the Hooks he struck out 96, walked a tidy 28, and limited home runs to just 7 while allowing well under one hit against per inning- and all those marks include a disastrous debut in which he went just 0.1 IP and was battered for five hits and six runs.
It’s tough to give Martin anything but high marks for this past season. The biggest knock on him has been his below-average command, but his performance with Corpus should quiet those concerns somewhat. As mentioned above, he is largely a three-pitch guy, but not in the traditional sense. Rather than leaning on a changeup as his third offering, Martin makes liberal use of both a slider and a curveball, the former generally being considered more formidable. That said, Martin does show league-average potential with his change and will likely use all four offerings if he is a long-term starter. His fastball is in the solid above average range, sitting around 92 MPH.
Those who are Martin fans, such as myself, project him as a #3 starter in the big leagues, with some confident enough in his abilities to project him as a #2. I am not quite ready to go there yet on Martin, but if he can prove that his command improvements from 2018 were legitimate while bringing his strikeout levels closer to those displayed lower on the ladder, I might reconsider. Kiley McDaniel had a slightly different idea for Martin in a piece from August 15, where went over prospects who showed traits that could make them successful opening pitchers- that is, pitchers with starter-quality stuff that might face issues seeing a lineup for the third time. He split the candidates into two archetypes, the Tyler Glasnow group (two plus pitches, strong third pitch, middling command) and the Jalen Beeks group (60+ grade fastball, middling traits otherwise), with Martin slotting into the Glasnow group. I like where McDaniel’s head is at in general in the piece, and I strongly recommend giving it a look, but personally I feel that after Martin’s 2018, there were enough positive changes in his profile that I am fairly comfortable projecting him as a starter.
Obviously, cracking the Astros rotation in 2019 will be a tall order, even if the impending free agents depart. Verlander, McCullers and Cole will all be locked into starting roles, leaving just two openings for the myriad hopefuls in the organization, including players like Josh James who are further along in their development than Martin. That said, if things break right Martin could make big league starts next year, and if he doesn’t, I expect that he’ll be beating down the door by 2020. Look for him to start next season in Triple-A, which will likely be in Round Rock, where he will hope to maintain his command improvements and continue to miss bats. He’s a top-100 honorable mention at this point, and could find himself on a couple national lists before he cracks the bigs. While he does not possess the upside of Cionel Perez or JB Bukauskas with their high-octane fastballs, Martin has all the necessary traits to be a very successful big league starter- and to me it doesn’t look like he has too much work to do to reach that level.