Baseball is widely considered a sport where numbers and data are meticulously dissected and careful thought is given to every pitch in every situation. Baseball is a game that can give the thinking man an edge, and former University of South Carolina first baseman Kyle Martin is certainly a thinking man.
During his time as a Gamecock, Kyle was not only an All-American on the field, but he was also recognized as an All-Southeastern Conference performer and for his ability in the classroom. One of the chief reasons that Kyle, a product of Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, chose to continue his career at South Carolina was the engineering program.
Without taking away from other academic programs or student-athletes, most decide to major in a field less challenging. Kyle wanted to measure his talents against the best both on the baseball field and in the classroom.
“He’s a very savvy player, a very intelligent player, and he used that to his advantage,” says South Carolina head baseball coach Chad Holbrook, who recruited Kyle. “He really applied his intellect to the game and that made him a better player.”
During his time at South Carolina, Kyle used his mind and body to grow from being ranked as the No. 2 first baseman in the state of South Carolina, as a high school senior, to being one of the top two first basemen in the country. He also used that intellect on a journey to a degree that will enable him to be successful in a career when baseball is over.
Eyeing His Talent
Kyle is a big, hulking figure standing 6-feet-2-inches-tall with 240 pounds of muscle and sometimes sports a beard that adds to his intimidation factor when staring down opposing pitchers. When Chad first put his eyes on his future first baseman in the summer of 2010, Kyle was a baby-faced hitter with a frame that had the potential to hold more weight and strength.
There was a lot that appealed to Chad when recruiting Kyle, who committed to the Gamecocks on Feb. 16, 2011. Chad, who was just beginning his third year at South Carolina as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, saw a left-handed first baseman who had a great defensive feel and a swing that could put a strong charge into a pitched baseball.
He also saw a left arm that may be able to help him out on the mound as well, but a pitching role never presented itself. Kyle’s batting and defensive abilities proved to be the route to take at South Carolina. Chad also knew that he had a lure that would make Kyle bite, beyond what could be offered in baseball. “He is a very intelligent kid, and our engineering department offered him exactly what he wanted to study … we knew that was important to him. Kyle has put a great level of importance on his academic work, and he showed that you can balance sports and also succeed in a very difficult field of study.”
Clemson came after Kyle hard in the recruiting process and so did other in-state schools like the College of Charleston and The Citadel, but none of these others could offer the balance of top-flight baseball and academics that he was looking for in a college. Born and raised a Gamecock, Kyle already had his eyes focused on South Carolina and everything fell into place.
“It all sort of clicked,” Kyle says. “Couple the engineering program with baseball, and the decision was made. I couldn’t have found a better place to go to school to play baseball and continue my education.”
Succeeding in the College Game
Kyle had great success at the high school level, earning All-State honors and was the winning pitcher for the Southeast Region team that beat Latin America in the Big League World Series just a few short months before he enrolled at South Carolina. He played a starring role that night on ESPN, also going 3-for-4 at the plate to help his team win a championship.
His success in college didn’t happen overnight though as he spent most of his freshman season in a reserve role. There were games he would make a spot start at first base or as the designated hitter, but he spent most of his first year behind future Baltimore Oriole Christian Walker.
After taking a similar path early in his sophomore season behind LB Dantzler, who was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays, Kyle earned his way into the starting first baseman role late in the year. He used that experience at the end of 2013 to vault himself into the starting position as a junior.
“Kyle just wanted to play,” Chad says. “All he wanted was to be in the lineup. No situation fazed him, whether he was in the batters box with the game on the line, or whether we were up or down. He was the same guy every day, and that’s what I most remember about Kyle.”
Kyle led the team with a .336 batting average and also slugged five home runs with 38 RBIs in 2014, his junior season. Known as a power hitter, he also showed a keen eye at the plate walking 22 times while striking out in only 28 of his 244 at-bats.
Following his junior season, Kyle had the opportunity to go play professional baseball when the Los Angeles Angels drafted him in the 20th round. While it was a difficult decision, the thinking man weighed his options and decided one more year of college was the best decision he could make.
“I love this University, I love this baseball program and I’m not ready to leave all that this great place provides me with,” he said at the time. “I am looking forward to another season at Carolina Stadium in front of the best fans in the country. It is also important for me to earn my degree, and I’m grateful to the entire University community that is helping me get closer to achieving that goal.”
His decision paid off because he was not only able to get closer to his degree, he also shot up professional draft boards with an All-American senior season. Kyle led the Gamecocks in all three Triple Crown categories posting a .350 batting average with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs his final year as a Gamecock.
When the MLB Draft came around in June, he was selected in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Phillies, an organization that already held a special place in his heart. Kyle’s father, Robert Martin, is a Philadelphia native, and Kyle could regularly be spotted on campus sporting gear of his favorite teams — the Phillies and Eagles.
Putting His Mind to Use
Baseball is a complex game, and it becomes even more so at the professional level. In a college game, hitters don’t see the same command and movement of pitches that they do in professional baseball, so the hitter needs every advantage he can get. Batters will see the same pitchers on multiple occasions throughout the season, whereas in college, they typically see the same arm only once or twice. The experience helps, but so does studying what those pitchers’ tendencies are each time they take the mound.
“There is a lot more information involved now as far as pitch sequences and getting to know pitchers,” Kyle says. “The competition level I have faced so far is about the same as facing SEC guys on a Friday or Saturday — the difference hasn’t been too big. I’ve gone into it and just hit the ground running.”
Kyle was quick to sign his professional contract after his college career ended and played in his first game for the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies’ Class A Affiliate in Lakewood, New Jersey, on June 25, 2015. He started his career with a six-game hitting streak with four doubles, a home run and five RBIs during the stretch.
Kyle had a successful season, which totaled 65 games, in his first year with the organization. He finished the year with a .279 batting average with 19 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 37 RBIs. It was a great start to his professional career, but Kyle is looking ahead.
“One of the next steps I have to take as a professional baseball player is putting all of the information and research into the works rather than just going up there and trying to hit something,” Kyle says. “The next step is taking all of the knowledge and interpreting it. You’re given a lot. It’s going to be difficult, but I have the resources and coaches to help with that.”
The next step for Kyle is just beginning as he was assigned to start his first full year with the Clearwater Threshers, the Class A Advanced team with the Philadelphia Phillies. Moving up a level this year, Kyle started every game during the team’s first week of the season.
The move to Clearwater shows Kyle’s upward trajectory, but so did his performance during spring training. He is currently ranked as the No. 30 prospect in the entire organization as the 2016 season begins after posting the third-highest slugging percentage on his team this past year.
“One of the first things I was told when I got to Lakewood was to control what you can and do the best you can at whatever level you are,” Kyle says. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I just did the best I could. Hopefully the windows of opportunity will open up and stars will align.”
It All Comes Back to Academics
To take the next step in life after his baseball career is finished, he will need to complete the requirements for his engineering degree.
After finishing up his season in Lakewood, Kyle returned back to Columbia and took 15 hours of classes. He now has 18 hours remaining, including two core courses and four 500-level electives, which he plans to take this fall. If all goes as planned, Kyle should have his degree in December and will be fully prepared for life after baseball.
Once baseball is finished and it comes time to put his degree to use, Kyle has family connections and friends in the industry who can help him get his foot in the door. Of course, the path he takes will largely be determined based on how long he plays professional baseball.
“I’m not going to let my degree go to waste,” Kyle says. “I don’t know exactly what kind of path I want to take just yet, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.”