When Bloomingdale shortstop Richie Martin was about 10 years old, he decided to ditch basketball and soccer and concentrate solely on the sport he loved: baseball.
His devotion has only grown stronger with age.
“My whole life is baseball,” he said Sunday after the Florida Athletic Coaches Association all-star game in Sebring. Martin took home MVP honors for the victorious West squad after going 4-for-5 with a triple and three stolen bases over two games.
That was just one of many strong performances the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Martin has turned in this season. In 26 games for Bloomingdale, Martin hit .438 (fifth highest among Hillsborough County public schools) with six doubles, two triples, 19 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and 25 runs scored.
It’s his ability to steal bases, combined with his defensive skills, that have him ranked the 20th-best senior prospect in Florida by Perfect Game. In March, ESPN HS ranked him the ninth-best middle infielder in the Class of 2012. Because of his mix of talent and future projection, Martin will likely have a choice to make by July 13: sign with the team that drafts him in June’s MLB first-year player’s draft or play for at least three years at the University of Florida.
“His fielding is outstanding, he’s a plus runner, he’ll be able to handle shortstop defensively, which can be said about very few high school players projecting to the pro level,” said David Rawnsley, national director of scouting for Perfect Game, who could see Martin go as high as the four-to-six round range or slide out of the first 10 rounds completely.
“Scouts have a real serious concern about whether he’s going to be able to hit, especially right now, at the professional level.”
Just as he did in Sebring, Martin has hit well in previous all-star and showcase situations. His father, Richard, points to his MVP performance in the 2010 World Wood Bat Association Championships in Jupiter as the moment he realized his son had elite potential.
After scoring a tournament-high seven runs in seven games, including the only run in the championship game, during the WWBA Florida qualifier, Martin was named the tournament MVP.
His team, Chet Lemon’s Juice, was the co-champion of the 85-team final event, which attracts hundreds of scouts each year (the Toronto Blue Jays, for example, sent 34 scouts). Against a team from Puerto Rico, Martin was 2-for-3 with a three-RBI double. All with a wooden bat, mind you.
“He’s still developing and growing, and I just think the sky is the limit for what he’s capable of doing,” said Chet Lemon, a 16-year MLB veteran who has coached Martin since he was 12. “He’s the kind of youngster who can actually take over a game because of the way he runs.”
Should Martin, whose maternal grandfather played in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs, choose to go to Florida, he’d have the opportunity to take over immediately at shortstop. The Gators’ incumbent, Nolan Fontana, is projected a possible first-day draft pick.
As far as his own professional opportunities, Martin worked out for the Atlanta Braves this spring, and, on the advice of his father and adviser, has turned down other pro team workout invitations. Thursday, though, in advance of his final high school game — the Hillsborough vs. Pinellas All-star Challenge, at Tropicana Field — Martin may work out for the Tampa Bay Rays.
While he’s asked about the draft on a daily basis, Martin’s only concerned with one thing: playing baseball.
“Maybe I’m not grown up enough to understand the money stuff,” said Martin, adding that he doesn’t have a specific round or dollar amount in mind. “All I need is baseball.”
Laura Keeley can be reached at email@example.com.