Kyle Martin waited patiently for two seasons for his turn. Now it’s here.
The junior from Greenville has begun to stake his claim to the first-base job with an eye-opening fall practice for the South Carolina baseball team. USC coach Chad Holbrook knew Martin could handle the position defensively, but now he is seeing Martin come into his own as a hitter.
As if that weren’t enough, Martin also has gotten work on the mound this fall, and made quite an impression on the coaches as another possible arm from the left side.
“Kyle is the most pleasant surprise with how he’s played and how he’s pitched as well. Based on what he’s done this fall, he’s a guy who’s going to hit fourth or fifth in our lineup,” Holbrook said.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Martin has batted .291 with three homers and 22 RBIs over a combined 158 at-bats in his first two seasons, and while those are decent numbers, Holbrook is starting to see a hitter who could replace the production of Martin’s hard-hitting predecessors at first base, Christian Walker and LB Dantzler.
“We didn’t know what to expect out of Kyle this fall. We knew we were getting a good defender. We knew we were getting a veteran. We knew we were getting a mature kid who has played for us on a big stage,” Holbrook added. “But we wanted to see him perform a little bit better offensively, and he has done that. That has been the most exciting thing for me.”
The quiet Martin takes it all in stride. He knows that he must continue to prove himself well into the spring season, when the competition really heats up.
“Just because they say it is my spot doesn’t mean it is. I’ve still got to come out and work hard every day. That’s all I’ve been doing,” Martin said. “As far as hitting goes, I’m in the right spot. It’s all starting to click. I feel like my swing is right on point. As long as it stays that way, I think I’ll do pretty well. I’ve come out with a more aggressive swing this year and a better approach.”
And now he might be called upon to disrupt the swings of opposing hitters. Although he pitched some in high school, he has not thrown at USC, although he did get a brief look in the fall of his freshman season. But it’s much more serious this time around, especially since he allowed three hits over his first 11 scrimmage innings. Although not a hard thrower, Martin has good command of his fastball, curveball and changeup, something that hasn’t been lost on Holbrook.
“No one has squared him up. He throws strikes with all three pitches. It has been very encouraging watching him pitch,” Holbrook said. “I don’t know how prominent his role is going to be on the mound, especially if he’s hitting in the middle of our lineup, but we’re not going to hesitate putting him in there.”
Martin is fine with however things work out in terms of getting to pitch.
“As far as the season goes, I have no control over that,” he said. “If they want me to throw, then I’ll throw. I’ll do whatever I can to help out.”
He does hope, however, that his bat stays hot over the winter break into next semester, when the Gamecocks return to the practice field in January before the start of the season in mid-February. He knows that’s his ticket to playing regularly.
“I would love to carry it over into the spring. If I can hit like this, it could help out the team drastically. That’s all I’m here to do,” he said.
Martin wants to make a trip back to the College World Series in Omaha, where the Gamecocks won national titles in 2010 and 2011 and finished as runners-up in 2012. The junior-class nucleus is a strong one with catcher Grayson Greiner, third baseman Joey Pankake, center fielder Tanner English, pitcher Jordan Montgomery and now Martin. They understand the leadership must come from them in building a close-knit unit that can succeed at the highest level.
“We do feel that way. We feel like the Michael Roth-Christian Walker group and how they had command of the team,” Martin said. “Joey and Grayson are good leaders for the fielders and Jordan is leading the way for the pitchers. This could be a big year for us. Our goal is always to go to Omaha.”