© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
03/08/09 5:56 PM ET
Martin turning heads in Twins camp
Prospect hoping to show he's ready if needed during season
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins outfield prospect Dustin Martin has heard the same advice at nearly every level he's reached in the Minor Leagues. "They keep telling me, Shorten your swing,'" he said. "At every level, my swing seems to get shorter and shorter and shorter."
It was the message that Martin received again this past fall when he was playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.
Stan Cliburn, the manager for the Twins' Triple-A Rochester affiliate, was Martin's manager during the fall league. After the first week of practice in Arizona, Cliburn said he noticed Martin's swing was a little longer than necessary. So Cliburn and Martin worked on tightening it up.
"He was down there in the third-base box, and if he saw me leaning a little bit or striding too far, he would tell me," Martin said. "If I was tending to get long, he would help me to work on it. And as a result, my swing got shorter again."
This time, Martin seemed to get really comfortable with his new swing. The outfielder emerged as one of the AFL's best players, batting .314 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 33 games while helping the Desert Dogs to the league title.
"He was a catalyst for us to win that championship," Cliburn said. "He carried us. He played every day. He just did things -- not only with his bat, but out in the field. He was a complete player. He brought the momentum he had in Arizona to Spring Training. He's getting a good look. He's showing people what he can do."
In his first big league camp, Martin has been making an early impression this spring -- a task that's certainly not easy in a Twins camp full of talented outfielders.
As of Sunday, Martin was batting .538 (7-for-13) with two doubles and three RBIs in seven games for the Twins. He's played both left field and center field, earning praise from the coaching staff for both his bat and his glove.
"I can see that he's really tightened up his swing," said Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra, who saw Martin when he was called over to big league camp for a few games last spring. "He works hard on it and he's built himself a great swing. Plus, he's done a good job in the outfield as well."
Martin, 24, is making an impression, but he knows that sticking with the club will be a much harder task.
Heading into the season, Minnesota currently has four outfielders -- Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Delmon Young -- vying for time in the three outfield spots. Manager Ron Gardenhire has also said he can use Jason Kubel in the outfield, although Kubel is expected to be the club's primary designated hitter.
And those aren't the only outfielders trying to play well this spring. Jason Pridie, who was considered a candidate for the center-field job last spring, is considered to be another option for the outfield should the Twins need one.
"No one said it was going to be easy," Martin said. "It's definitely tough. There are a bunch of good players in this locker room. I just need to take care of my business and let the chips fall where they may."
A 26th-round pick by the Mets in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Martin has always had to fight a little harder to be noticed.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound outfielder was recruited more heavily to play football in college. He received some baseball offers as well, but most of those were from Division II schools. He eventually signed with Sam Houston State, a small Division I school.
Martin played four years at the school, but even after being drafted, he was buried in a Mets system that was loaded with outfield depth.
Martin didn't get a chance to really make an impression in the Mets system before the Twins acquired him, along with catcher Drew Butera, from the Mets on July 30, 2007, in exchange for second baseman Luis Castillo. Martin went to Class A Fort Myers immediately and said that he shifted easily into the cleanup spot for the Miracle.
"I didn't expect a trade at all," Martin said. "I just came over here and kept business as normal."
Martin then delivered his breakout season last year, as he hit .290 with 10 home runs and 72 RBIs at Double-A New Britain. It was a season that led to his selection for the Arizona Fall League.
The expectation now is that Martin will start the 2009 season at Rochester. It puts him just a step away from the Majors, and if he continues to play like he has this spring, he could be called upon to help the Twins if the need arises.
"He's putting his foot in the door here with his performance here in Major League camp," said Cliburn, who will likely manage Martin at Rochester this season. "He's going to get in the outfield and play every day. I'm going to play him in left, right and center. He'll get plenty of opportunities again to show what he can do."
Martin just happy to do anything that might get him closer to his ultimate goal -- reaching the big leagues.
"I'm trying to make a good impression this spring and show them that I can play up at this level," Martin said. "Hopefully, they keep giving me opportunities and I keep succeeding. I just thank them for the opportunity to be up here."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com.j This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.