Hokies third baseman Carson DeMartini is more than just their best returning bat in 2024. As the elder statesman of a burgeoning infield and one of the Virginia Tech’s most-experienced players, he’s the heart and soul of a team searching for its identity.
Tech has always had high hopes for the Virginia Beach native. After all, he found himself in the starting lineup of the 2022 squad — which won the program’s lone ACC Coastal title en route to hosting an NCAA Super Regional — as a true freshman, posting a 1.110 OPS with 15 home runs.
But his sophomore season held the leap that has separated him in this lineup. He slashed .323/.455/.593 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI while dealing with a shoulder injury that restricted him from playing in the field. All season long, DeMartini showcased tremendous power and demonstrated vastly increased discipline, striking out 21 fewer times and tallying 11 more free bases than he did as a freshman. In his short time in the field, he flashed plenty with his glove as well, exhibiting an extraordinarily natural feel for the 5 spot for a former high school shortstop.
“Obviously he’s an elite-level player,” Hokies head coach John Szefc said. “From a hitting perspective and defensively. … His experience is probably off the charts compared to a lot of other guys in college baseball. I think when you combine all those things together, you have a pretty elite-level guy right there.”
Heading into Year 3, DeMartini is still just scratching the surface of his potential. And the country is reacting accordingly.
DeMartini has been placed on the preseason All-America teams for Perfect Game USA, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and D1 Baseball, which ranked him as the country’s third best player at the hot corner just behind LSU’s Tommy White and Tennessee’s Billy Amick.
Moreover, DeMartini is currently ranked as MLB’s No. 43 overall draft prospect for 2024 while Perfect Game has him at No. 35. D1 Baseball has him as the No. 18 college prospect — good for No. 2 in the ACC.
With DeMartini back fully healthy — “I’m 100 percent, shoulder’s all healed up,” he said at the team’s media day on Friday — Tech should feel confident in his bat and his glove to lead the team on the field.
But that was always going to be the case. What’s new to DeMartini this season is his off-the-field role: a mentor to a young core and a team featuring plenty of new faces, including eight transfers and 13 freshmen.
His recovery from shoulder surgery prevented him from playing any fall ball. So he spent time in Blacksburg in the summer to get to know Tech’s newcomers as closely as possible in order to build camaraderie in a locker room that desperately needed it.
“Guys are looking at me [for] what to do,” DeMartini said. “Whether that’s on or off the field, in the weight room, how we eat, what we do, you know, after practice. I think that’s the whole leadership role.
“It’s not a very nerve-racking thing for me, but it’s just something that it’s nice to have. But, it carries a lot of weight and it’s really important, especially if we have new guys playing this year, showing them how we play baseball here and what not.”
If he wasn’t going to play on the field, he was going to help the team get closer off of it. And if Tech’s reaction to its third baseman’s newfound presence is any indication, he’s flourishing even further.
“Where he’s matured the most, probably, is not actually even in his baseball; it’s how he kind of handles the group and directs the group where other people around him become better,” Szefc said. “It’s almost like the point guard that makes everybody better with how he sets them up and can distribute the ball. That’s kind of the way he is, I think, from a baseball perspective.”
He may be the best bat in the lineup, the best glove on the infield, the highest-ranked prospect on the team and the most-recognized name on the roster. But if this Tech team is going to return to its 2022 ways — a sentiment that was widely echoed at the team’s media day — DeMartini will need to be more than that. He’ll need to fulfill his veteran status and be the type of presence in the locker room and the dugout that can help the Hokies reach their potential.
And it appears he’s doing just that.
“I have no concern about where he is skill-wise,” Szefc said. “I don’t really have any concern about him, period. For me, it’s actually more fun to watch him interact with guys and help grow guys as opposed to watching him take BP or something like that.”
DeMartini and the Hokies open the 2024 season at Charlotte on Feb. 16.