's Nick Martini never really has struggled to find his way on a baseball diamond.
After a stellar high school career at where he was a three-time All-State selection and led the Wolves to a state championship in 2008, he moved on to play collegiately at Kansas State University. Once there, he pounced on Big 12 pitchers, being named the conference's MVP in his sophomore year and finishing his three seasons with a .360 batting average and ranking in the top 10 of almost every offensive category.
During the summer of 2010, he was invited to play in the Cape Cod League, where the top collegiate players showcase their talents for major league scouts on a nightly basis.
So it wasn't a surprise when Martini was chosen in the seventh round by the St. Louis Cardinals of the 2011 major league baseball amateur draft. The highly touted outfielder was assigned to Class A Batavia of the New York-Penn League in upstate New York, taking a step toward his dream of playing in the big leagues someday.
But what followed wasn't easy for the 21-year-old. During 57 games, Martini managed just a .169 batting average with the Muckdogs, and he has struggled to stay positive in his first taste of pro baseball. But a closer look at his statistics suggests he just may be more advanced than most hitters at this level may.
"I think obviously I've gone through my share of ups and downs and it's not really where I wanted it to be," Martini said. "I struggled a little bit, but I try to stay focused on having a lot of good at-bats and hitting the ball hard and (I'm) not really too worried about average or anything like that."
Martini has been able to stay disciplined at the plate, walking 28 times compared to 34 strikeouts. His on-base percentage (.291) was 122 points higher than his batting average. Those numbers are true to his approach in college, where he got on base 45.8 percent of the time and ranks sixth in school history.
"His DNA is that he's very selective at the plate and his walk-to-strikeout ratio is one of the best in the league," Muckdogs hitting coach Ron LaFrancios said about Martini. "I've been coaching for 26 years and have seen lots of guys struggle to start their careers. Professional baseball is an adjustment for them, but Nick already is doing things that we struggle to teach other guys, especially with his plate discipline."
In the modern age of the Internet and the amount of money invested by teams on high draft picks, it would be easy to get caught up in the negatives. But that doesn't appear to be Martini's style.
"I don't feel a lot of pressure, but I think other people wonder why isn't he doing this or doing that. But I've done the best I could to this point." Martini said. "I've been making a lot of adjustments and it will come along. I'm at the plate just looking to hit something hard and getting good at-bats."
The Cardinals organization is excited about his defensive abilities in center field, where his speed allows him to cover plenty of ground. LaFrancios also mentioned Martini's strong arm and speed has a few of things that separate him from other players at this level. Martini also stole eight bases without getting caught.
"I feel like I've improved a lot defensively in center field. I've been getting good reads out there," Martini said. "If you want to play center field, you need to also be a speed guy and I take great pride in running the bases well."
Between his college and professional seasons, Martini has played 118 games in 2011 and LaFrancios says the adjustment to playing so much is one of the toughest transitions for young ballplayers to make. As much as Martini enjoys the game, he is looking forward to some time off, but he's also ready for a fresh start in 2012.
"You start college ball in January and all the way to now it's certainly been a grind," Martini said. "I'm looking forward to getting the time to rest up my body and be ready once the offseason kicks in.
"This is something I've always wanted. I have a chance at my dream right now and obviously, when you're struggling it's not easy, but that's what separates the best from other people. You really have to look forward to your next opportunity and not let the negative stuff get in the way of doing your job."