When Richie Martin visited the A’s clubhouse in Oakland last summer, shortly after being drafted in the first round, he expected a room full of professional players to “kind of big-league me a little.” Rather than being ignored, Martin found a locker with his name on it and a University of Virginia hat inside – closer Sean Doolittle’s alma mater and the team that eliminated Martin’s Florida Gators from the College World Series.
Martin appreciated the joke and spent the afternoon interacting with a group he described as “friendly” and “communicative.” As he participates in his first major-league camp this spring, the 21-year-old shortstop is upholding the rookie custom of keeping his head down and going about his business, but he said his encounters with coaches and teammates have been more of the same.
“Initially you expect them to kind of not pay attention, but with all these guys it seems like there’s such a community,” Martin said. “I’ve been keeping my eye on (shortstop Marcus Semien) to see how he handles his business. The other thing I noticed was (catcher) Stephen Vogt. That guy’s vocal, and he’s always the first one here and last one to leave. That means a lot to a guy like me. You see what these guys are doing, and you want to be like them.”
Martin, the 20th pick in last year’s draft, has made his own impression in the first few weeks of camp. Teams sometimes draft college shortstops with the intent of trying them at other positions given their athleticism, but A’s manager Bob Melvin said that isn’t the plan for Martin.
“Defensively he’s way ahead in his mechanics and just his natural ability,” Melvin said. “He’s a true shortstop. He’ll stay at the position.”
In infield drills, Martin works with third-base coach Ron Washington, who coached past Oakland infielders Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, a six-time Gold Glove winner, and is clearly taken with Martin’s potential.
“As solid a young player as I’ve ever seen,” Washington said. “He’s got a solid foundation; he’s got a strong arm. And the most important thing about him is he’s got aptitude. You give him something, and he can apply it.”
Washington cited a recent drill in which he had the shortstops working on turning double plays on grounders to their backhand. He explained the technique to Martin and was surprised when Martin performed the action without a demonstration.
“I just told him what he had to do from afar, and he executed it,” Washington said. “I was shocked, to be honest with you. I was like, yeah, this kid’s going to be all right.”
Ironically, Martin said his defense through high school was “actually pretty bad.” After his freshman year at Florida, though, he began dedicating as much time to defense as hitting, which he said made “a huge difference.”
“My coach at Florida would make me take 100 ground balls a day,” Martin said. “And I took more probably. I would be out there all day taking ground balls.”
Martin said that work continued this offseason, which he spent at home working out with his father and concentrating defensively on “just catching the ball and making the routine play.” Martin said Washington also pu stresses catching the ball before worrying about making a throw – one of Martin’s natural gifts.
“He’s got an arm, man,” Washington said. “Whoa, he’s got a cannon. And the way he can twist and turn his body different ways, he’s just an athlete.”
Infielder Tyler Ladendorf said when the veterans joke around, Martin will “get a little smile, so he’s not too straight-edged.” Washington said he has yet to see much of Martin’s personality, but the longtime coach isn’t worried about that.
“He don’t have to worry about keeping a low profile. He just needs to be Richie,” Washington said. “He’ll learn with experience, time. All he needs to do is stay in the game and gain experience, and he’s going to be a quality player.”