Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Mason Martin hasn’t exactly taken the traditional trajectory in the minor leagues. The tenth overall prospect in the Pirates organization was selected as the 508th overall pick in the 17th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.
After being drafted out of Southridge High School in Kennewick, Washington, Martin signed a $350,000 contract with the Pirates. The former Gonzaga University commit would begin his professional baseball career with the Pirates in the Gulf Coast League.
From there he would earn a promotion to the West Virginia Black Bears and eventually the Bristol Pirates in 2018. In 373 at-bats in 2018, Martin would hit for a .220 batting average with 14 home runs, 58 runs scored, 58 runs batted in, three stolen bases, 60 walks, and 149 strikeouts.
However, due to a poor batting average and excessively high strikeout rates, he would begin 2019 with the Low-A affiliate of the Pirates, the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The hope was that he could improve upon his approach at the plate at a lower league.
He would thrive with Greensboro thanks to a change to his stance, a shortening of his swing, improved conditioning and an increased study of opposing pitching. The results would be an increase in power production, a decrease in strikeout rate and improved batting average.
After dominating at Greensboro, Martin would receive a promotion to high-A Bradenton, where he would continue to mash. Between Greensboro and Bradenton, Martin would amass 477 at-bats, with a .254 batting average, 35 home runs, 129 runs batted in, 90 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 68 walks, and 168 strikeouts.
While the strikeout rates remained high, he reduced his strikeout rate to 31% in 2019, down from a 40% rate in 2018. Despite the alarming strikeout rates, Martin possesses a good eye in the box and walked at an impressive 13% rate last season.
He worked to try to balance putting the ball in play and hitting for power, which helped him improve his on-base plus slugging percentage from .722 in 2018 to .908 in 2019. If Martin can continue to walk at a respectable rate and put the ball in play, his high strikeout rate can be overlooked to an extent.
An improvement in his pitch selection in regards to what pitches Martin swings at, should help him improve his solid .457 on-base percentage from 2019. He possesses an excellent work ethic and is always seeking improvement, which bodes well for his ability to make adjustments as he moves through the minor league system.
Martin has exhibited clutch hitting ability, going 8-15 with 26 runs batted in with the bases loaded and had multiple game-winning home runs in 2019. Impressively, he hit walk-off home runs in both games of a doubleheader against the Lakewood BlueClaws last season.
At just 20-years of age, Martin is still very young for the level in which he is playing, which makes what he has been able to do thus far that much more impressive. At 6’2” and 225-pounds, Martin is a physical specimen.
His rugged physique is something that runs in the family, as his father, Chad Martin, was a world-renown bodybuilder. As a result, Mason is no stranger to strength conditioning, which helps with his incredible raw power.
On a scale of 20-80 with 50 being average, Martin has a hit tool of 45, a raw power rating of 65, a speed rating of 40, a fielding rating of 50 and a throwing rating of 45. He projects as a power-hitting first baseman who is serviceable in the field.
Currently, Martin is one of the top power prospects in all of baseball and was ranked as Baseball America’s tenth overall first base prospect. Last season he was named the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year award winner by Baseball America.
The left-handed power-hitting first baseman is expected to begin the season with the Bradenton Marauders, but with continued success from last year, he should be promoted to the Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve in short order.
With improved pitch selection and plate discipline, Martin should be able to cut down on his strikeout rates. If he can do so and improve his batting average, the Pirates may very well have their version of last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, 2019 home run leader, and Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso.
If Mason Martin becomes anywhere close to what Alonso was for the Mets last season, Pirates fans will be ecstatic. It will be interesting to see if this promising prospect can improve upon his plate discipline without sacrificing his prodigious power in the minors this upcoming season.