Riley Martin – Picture by Todd Johnson
One of the coolest stories of the past year and a half has been the success of Riley Martin who the Cubs took in the sixth round of the 2021 MLB draft out of tiny D2 Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Martin came in with a reputation of having a good curveball that missed a lot of bats. But moving from D2 to professional baseball was not exactly an easy transition over the course of 11 months, Martin has had to make a lot of adaptations to how he pitches and what he pitches.
Let’s take a look back at his 2022 season and pick out five key things for his past success and probable future success.
Originally, Martin started out the year as a long reliever at Myrtle Beach. He was only there for a month and when he came to South Bend, he got knocked around pretty good the first few outings. Riley had to learn to figure out how to pitch against more advanced competition. In May, his initial month at South Bend, he had a 7.20 ERA and that dropped to 2.19 in June.
2. The Development List
When this move was first announced in late June of 2022, I shook my head because he was coming off a month with a 2.19 ERA and it looked like he was putting things together. Over the next three weeks, I watched him pitch in several side sessions with the South Bend’s pitching coach and development coach where they worked on his slider every bullpen. They worked on his grip, the release point, his arm action, and just exactly how the ball was moving through the air. When he came off the development list, he had turned into a vicious pitcher with a slider that complemented his curve. It began to look like hitters could not differentiate the spin between the slider and the curve coming out of his hand. In July, he had a 1.42 ERA.
3. Baseball Smarts
One of the cool things about just sitting there watching practice two hours before the game is I get to pick up on a lot of little things happening between the players and the coaches. Riley is not a big talker. He’s a pretty quiet guy, but watching him interact with pitching coach Tony Cougoule and development coach Alex Wright, it’s quite clear that this guy has a lot of baseball smarts. Riley understands the physics of what he’s doing along with how small adjustments can impact how the ball moves through the air and how it’s perceived by the hitter. I think that’s really cool that he’s able to put himself on the outside of what he’s doing.
4. He’s not Afraid of Hard Work
I don’t know if he has a chip on his shoulder, but based upon how hard he works pregame doing his routines, long toss, and weighted balls, he busts his ass every day. He doesn’t need anybody looking over his shoulder. He’s just out there doing things to get better.
5. Stepping It Up
When Martin went to Tennessee for the Southern League championship series, he only got to pitch in one game and he was fine for two innings. But he seems to be doing better when the situation calls for it. Martin stepped up in the playoffs as a set up man for Sheldon Reed and Jake Reindl. If manager Lance Rymel would’ve let him, Martin would’ve pitched in every game and I would’ve been just fine with that. In the Arizona Fall League, he pitched just 12.2 innings but he struck out an amazing 19 guys and put up an ERA of 2.84 ERA.
Now that Martin will be in Tennessee to start 2023, I’m going be pretty excited for the things mentioned above. He got a little head start on Double-A with the playoffs. I am excited to see him pitch against advanced competition all year. One thing the Arizona Fall League can teach a lot of players, in spite of their stats, is just exactly what they going to be up against starting on day one the next season. One thing Martin did in the Arizona Fall League was he missed bats, a lot of them. He also found out that Double-A guys just punish mistakes, even the slightest ones. I am excited to see what he can do in 2023.
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