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Blue Jays select ‘pure hitter’ Austin Martin with No. 5 pick in shortened draft

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Austin Martin of Vanderbilt University with the No. 5 pick at the Major League Baseball amateur draft on Wednesday.

The versatile Martin, who was announced at the draft as a shortstop, has spent time at various positions including centrefield while at Vanderbilt, with some scouts calling him the best pure hitter at the draft.

Martin fell to Toronto as he was No. 2 on the MLB Prospect Rankings list.

Martin was originally taken by the Cleveland Indians as a 37th-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. But instead of joining the Indians out of Trinity Christian Academy in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., he chose to attend Vanderbilt.

In 140 career NCAA games over three seasons — with 2020 being cut short by the pandemic — the 21-year-old slashed .368/.474/.532 with 85 walks. In 2019, his last full season, he had 105 hits in 65 games with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs.

The Blue Jays selected fifth overall for the first time since taking Vernon Wells at No. 5 in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers selected third baseman Spencer Torkelson from Arizona State University with the first overall pick.

Shortened draft length

This year’s draft has been cut down to just five rounds from the usual 40 in a cost-cutting move due to the pandemic.

The draft was originally scheduled to be held this week in Omaha, Neb., ahead of the now-cancelled College World Series. Instead, the league is going with a two-day virtual draft at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., with the first 37 picks being called Wednesday. 160 will be made in all.

The Blue Jays, who were 67-95 last season, also hold the Nos. 42, 77, 106 and 136 overall selections.

With the sport on hiatus, the draft is providing baseball-starved fans at least some measure of satisfaction. MLB and the players’ association have been exchanging proposals regarding a potential return but nothing has been finalized.

Earlier Wednesday, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said there is “100 per cent” chance of big league ball this year.

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