Daily Chronicle 2024 Baseball Player of the Year: Hinckley-Big Rock’s Martin Ledbetter

Junior slugger hit .492 with 9 homers, 28 RBIs

Hinckley-Big Rock’s Martin Ledbetter delivers a pitch in April 2024 during their game against Newark at Hinckley-Big Rock High School.

Teams really didn’t like pitching to Martin Ledbetter.

The Hinckley-Big Rock junior slugger drew 26 walks this year, a chunk of those intentional and a handful with the bases loaded.

And while Ledbetter said it was irritating, it didn’t hinder his production this year. Ledbetter hit .492 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs with an OPS of 1.774.

“That was annoying all season,” said Ledbetter, the Daily Chronicle 2024 Baseball Player of the Year. “You have to think of it as an advantage and take it as a gift. Even though it’s annoying, it’s still helping the team.”

Ledbetter reached base nearly two-thirds of the time he came to the plate, and made teams pay for walking him. He stole 11 bases, scored 36 runs and was an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state pick.

Jacob Orin, who hit behind Ledbetter, drove in 25 runs this year.

“Every time I got walked, I was, like, I’m fine,” said Ledbetter, who pitched, caught and played first for the Royals. “Jacob did really well all season and had a ton of hits this season.”

Hinckley-Big Rock coach Matt Olsen said the Royals had the players to make opposing teams pay for walking Ledbetter, and he knew it.

“Of course he wants people to throw to him so he can hit. That’s a given,” Olsen said. “But I think as a young man it took him a little time to see what that is. As we got into different situations and our lineup was continuing to hit and up and down it at times, it was harder for people to do that. And his impression of that ... was that if you’re going to give us a free base, we’re going to make it hurt.”

Despite losing several seniors from the 2023 club and being very young this season, the Royals ended up 14-11 and were in the hunt for a Little 10 Conference title until the last series of the season against Serena, finishing 10-2 in second place.

The Royals lost their first playoff game to Harvest Christian, which reached a sectional final and lost 1-0 to eventual Class 1A state champ Marquette. The Royals have finished with a winning record each year of Ledbetter’s career, only the second time in program history they’ve recorded three straight winning seasons.

“I think it went better than expected,” Ledbetter said. “Losing a couple vital seniors and having a lot of young guys, I expected us to struggle. But I think we did a lot better than anticipated.”

Ledbetter always had been a dual threat for the Royals and a top-line pitcher. But he aggravated his rotator cuff midseason and ended up pitching only 21⅔ innings. He was 2-0 with a 0.97 ERA, striking out 49 and walking 16 in limited action.

He said he entered the year really looking forward to showing off how much he improved on the mound from last year. He said it was a useless injury that didn’t have to happen. Although he was starting to feel a little pain he still tried to catch a day after pitching.

It was also the biggest lesson he took from the season, he said.

“I have to listen to my body more,” said Ledbetter, also a basketball standout for the Royals. “I remember the second game I pitched when my arm wasn’t feeling the greatest, and I still decided to catch. Looking back, I should have stopped myself. I’ll definitely account for that next year and realize when to stop.”

Ledbetter said he plans on college visits over the summer. He doesn’t have any offers, but has been talking with NIU, SIU, Cincinnati and Wright State.

Olsen said he expects Ledbetter to continue to grow as both a player and a leader on the field in his senior campaign, adding Ledbetter showed great perseverance throughout the year dealing with his injuries and opponents walking him frequently.

“People went into games with a plan for him,” Olsen said. “He was still able to hit nine home runs. But there weren’t a lot of pitches he was able to see, especially in conference. ... I think that kind of speaks to the type of talent he is, competitor he is and what his potential is going to be.”

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