Yet another Arizona pitcher derailed by injury in 2021.
2021 Stats: 16.0 IP, 23 H, 19 R, 19 ER, 5 HR, 14 BB, 13 SO, 10.69 ERA, 8.42 FIP
2021 Earnings: League minimum (pre-arbitration)
2022 Status: On 40-man roster pre-arbitration (arbitration eligible 2024)
How did we get here
Entering the 2019 season, Corbin Martin stood alongside Forrest Whitley as an untouchable pitching prospect for the Houston Astros. The two were considered to be the foundation of Houston’s future rotation in a post-Justin Verlander world. Early injuries to the Houston rotation resulted in Martin receiving an early call-up. One strong and four mediocre starts later, Martin too wound up injured. As fate would have it, the Astros learned about a month later that Martin required Tommy John surgery. Despite losing a number of pitchers early in the season, the Astros found themselves strong favourites in the AL at the trade deadline. The combination of Martin’s serious injury and the Astros’ desire to significantly upgrade their pitching for the final stretch of the season was enough for Houston to make Corbin Martin available as the headline talent coming to Arizona in a deal for the Diamondbacks’ ace, Zack Greinke. Then the pandemic hit and wiped out the 2020 season, where Martin was expected to return to pitching in early-July. Despite spending time at the team’s alternate site in 2020, Corbin Martin threw very little at all in 2020. Martin opened the 2021 season in the minors, the top ranked pitching prospect in the system, and arguably one of the top ranked overall talents in Arizona’s much improved farm. As with 2019, early injuries to the Major League club’s rotation paved a path for Martin to make his long awaited debut with Arizona. This debut came on May 18, almost two years to the day after his MLB debut.
The 2021 Campaign
Martin’s Arizona debut was, for the most part a solid one. It was certainly much better than his line in the box score would indicate. The raw stats show he pitched five innings, allowing three runs on four walks and two home runs, while striking out six while facing the formidable Los Angeles Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, not exactly a soft landing for any pitcher trying to break into the Majors and make an impression. In fact, the rude awakening was immediate, as Mookie Betts led off the bottom of the first inning by taking Martin yard to very deep left center. What the box score does not show is that Martin never lost his composure. The Betts home run was followed up with two swinging strikeouts and a easy, routine grounder to second. The rest of the damage came in the bottom of the fifth, an inning which began with Martin inducing a weak pop-up behind the plate. Max Muncy followed by lacing a liner into left-center. Chris Taylor followed that up with a home run, which accounted for the other two earned runs allowed by Martin in the game. Still, Martin seemed to not be rattled, as he proceeded to get another weak fly to first and then finally closed out his outing with another swinging strikeout. While the outing was by no means a spectacular one. It was, at the time, a breath of fresh air to see an Arizona starter complete five innings in what was mostly a very acceptable manner. The big takeaway in the gameday thread that was almost unanimously echoed was that, Martin demonstrated that he belonged on the MLB stage as a starting pitcher. The eventual score of that game was 9-1, so Martin was hung with the loss, but the loss hardly sat squarely on his shoulders.
Martin then made one more start a week later. It was less impressive. After the start, he was sent back down to Reno. He didn’t stay in Reno long though, as he returned to the Diamondbacks again on June 15. For that game and the next outing, he worked as a follow-up to an opener. Then, on June 25th in San Diego, Martin was the “opener” (really failed starter) going only one-third of an inning and allowing four runs (all earned) on two walks and three hits – two of which left the yard. He was promptly shipped back to Reno to get right, as it had become apparent that Martin had lost confidence in his pitches and was spending way too much effort on nibbling around the edges instead of filling the zone with strikes. Four days later he started a game for the Reno Aces. His velocity was down a couple of ticks in that outing, an outing that lasted three and a third innings, but also featured four home runs allowed. After that game, Martin was placed on the IL with a severe forearm strain. This was supposed to be a temporary shutdown for Martin’s arm to stop barking and for him to get a mental break from the shelling he had recently gone through. Instead, he did not pitch again in 2021.
Reports are that Corbin Martin is now healthy again. That’s good news for the Diamondbacks, as the current 26-man roster seems to indicate that the Diamondbacks will be in need of a healthy, effective Martin’s services. There is, however, a bit of a quandary. Martin has only thrown a total of an even 100 innings across all levels of play since the beginning of the 2019 season. When considering Martin’s injury history, it seems a very tall task to expect more than potentially 80-100 total innings of work in 2022. That sort of workload would seem to suggest that Martin would fit better in the bullpen. That creates its own issues though, as the workload becomes more variable and inconsistent. It also wastes Martin’s talents as a potential #3 starter. While Martin’s long-term prospects may still lead him to being a bullpen arm, he will only be 26 in 2022 – and it isn’t as though the Diamondbacks will be fighting for the NL West crown. Those factors should result in Martin (assuming he can remain healthy) getting another season of light starts, with an eye on being a full-blown starter again in 2023. That future might get muddied a bit if some of Arizona’s top pitching prospects prove themselves up to the challenge and push for their own MLB roster slots in 2023, but that is the good sort of problem to have. Since Martin will not be arbitration eligible until 2024, there is no rush for the team to make a firm decision with him. Furthermore, Martin’s lost time, due both to injury and to the pandemic, will keep at least his first ear of arbitration salary very low (assuming the new CBA does not muck that up). This gives the both Martin and the Diamondbacks some time to see which is the real Corbin Martin, the one who was an untouchable prospect and who acquitted himself admirably against the powerhouse Dodgers, or the one who was serving up batting practice to the San Diego Padres and the Sacramento River Cats. Chances are, he will probably fall somewhere in-between. Arizona is hoping he falls closer to the former.