COLUMBIA — He didn’t get to make one more run at Omaha, didn’t even get to play in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in as many seasons. But despite South Carolina being left out of the postseason for the first time since 1999, Kyle Martin got what he wanted out of returning to USC for his senior year.
“I came back to put the uniform on one more time,” said the Gamecocks’ first baseman. “I’ve enjoyed it. … I’ve enjoyed hanging out around (my teammates), hanging around the coaches and everything. I’ve gotten everything I wanted out of it.”
And this week, he’ll get a little more. Martin’s strong senior year, in which he led USC with a .352 batting average, 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in, will almost certainly net him a position in the Major League Draft better — and more lucrative — than the one he walked away from last year. After a junior campaign where he hit .336 with five homers and 38 RBIs, Martin was taken by the Angels in the 20th round with the 599th overall pick.
The Greenville native should go much higher this time around in a draft that begins Monday. In its annual projection of the top 500 draft picks, Baseball America has Martin slotted at No. 240 — which is an eighth-round selection of the Atlanta Braves. And USC coach Chad Holbrook has a hunch his power-hitting first baseman might go sooner than that.
“Kyle has put himself in a really, really good spot,” Holbrook said. “I’ve talked to several organizations. You hate to predict the draft, because it’s very unpredictable. But I have a feeling he’ll go inside of five rounds based on what I’m hearing. That would be great for Kyle. I think he’ll play baseball a long time.”
The 240th overall selection is assigned a signing bonus slot value of $171,500, according to Baseball America. Slot values were instituted as part of the most recent major league collective bargaining agreement to limit signing bonuses, and teams can face penalties for paying more. Players drafted beyond the 10th round, such as Martin last year, have signing bonuses capped at $100,000.
“He turned down a fair amount of money to return his senior year,” Holbrook said. “… I’m sure he’ll sit up here and tell you his decision was well worth it, even though our team didn’t accomplish all it wanted to accomplish.”
But Martin may not be the first USC player off the board. According to Baseball America’s projection, that should be junior pitcher Jack Wynkoop, whom the magazine forecasts as the 116th overall selection, which is a fourth-round pick of Miami and carries a signing bonus slot value of $488,700. The left-hander went 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA last season, carrying USC over the final two months as the Gamecocks tried to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Wynkoop’s May 14 start against LSU was likely his last at Carolina Stadium. “I think Jack is going to be drafted in a position that’s going to be extremely enticing for him to sign a professional contract,” Holbrook said.
Junior second baseman Max Schrock is another USC player who could hear his name called over the course of the three-day draft. Schrock, who battled Achilles’ tendon and wrist injuries over the last month of the season but still hit .330 and drove in 34 runs, is projected by Baseball America as the 281st overall selection, which is a ninth-round pick of the Dodgers and carries a signing-bonus slot value of $155,900.
But Holbrook said Schrock has “a strong desire” to return for one more season at USC, just as Martin did.
“I have a really good feeling he’s going to come back and play here his senior year,” Holbrook said. “If he doesn’t, I’ll be his biggest supporter for as long as he needs me around. … I hope selfishly he comes back and can play 56 games heathy, and then everyone will see what kind of player I know he is. And I think that’s what he wants to do, too.”
USC will also have to wait on the decisions of some signees likely to be drafted, most notably right-handed pitcher Nick Neidert of Lawrenceville, Ga. (projected to go in the second round) and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen of Fletcher, N.C. (projected to go in the fourth). “The draft is going to dictate five or six roster spots” for 2016, Holbrook said. But it will unquestionably benefit Martin, whose patience is about to pay off.
“He’s a great defender, he keeps getting better at the plate offensively, and he’s got power,” Holbrook said. “He’ll play baseball probably as long as Kyle wants to play. He’s got a bright future in pro baseball, and I think he’ll have a long career.”