COLUMBIA - Kyle Martin was never given a reason for why he slipped to the 20th round of last weekend's MLB Draft, but he had an idea.
Big league clubs expect power hitting from the first base position. South Carolina's junior first baseman only hit five home runs, half his goal. After Martin decided to return for his senior season, Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook set a clearly defined Thursday.
"Next year, with the new ball, I think Kyle can be a double-digit home run guy," Holbrook said. "I think that that will help him. He's a big first baseman. He can play defense. There's no doubt there. I think maybe they want to see a little more power here and there, more home run total.
"I'm not a pro scout. I just know he's a dang-good hitter for us. I can see him being a double-digit home run guy next year."
Martin can help in other ways, even when he's not knocking baseballs over the outfield fence. Holbrook called him the best fielding first baseman in the country, one of the most critical cogs in South Carolina's defense. Martin also batted a team-high .336 last season.
But home run power was arguably the biggest void in his game. It may have been the reason he was available when the Los Angeles Angels' turn came up in the 20th round. That could change next season.
The NCAA approved use of new baseballs starting in 2015. With flat seems, the new baseballs are expected to fly farther in the air. The hope is to offset the limited offensive production that resulted when the NCAA implemented "dead bats" in 2011.
Martin said the new baseballs didn't factor in his decision. With eight months before the start of next season, he's not looking that far ahead. Still, Martin admitted his goal last season was to hit at least 10 home runs. Next spring, that goal won't change.
"It's definitely a goal," Martin said. "It'll be tough to get, but I think with these new balls it may help me out. So we'll just see how it goes."
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