The experts at MLB Pipeline expect that Torkelson will be drafted by the Detroit Tigers with the first overall pick this summer.
Almost without a doubt, first base has become the weakest position in the Tigers’ organization. The steady decline in Miguel Cabrera’s health has left the once fearsome batsman somewhat hamstrung at the plate and virtually incapable of playing the field. The offseason signing of former division rival CJ Cron provides some promise – his home run total would have led the Tigers in 2019 – but he also comes with some uncertainty thanks to offseason surgery on his thumb. Fortunately for Tigers fans, first baseman Spencer Torkelson is one of the top talents in the 2020 MLB draft class and it’s becoming increasingly likely the Tigers draft him with the first overall pick this summer.
Although there is debate about which player is the best in the class, MLB Pipeline predicts the Tigers will select Torkelson with their pick at the top of the first round. The Arizona State first baseman has long been the favorite among Tigers fans who are fed up with the lack of offensive punch among top prospects in the organization. He’s an accomplished hitter who took a wrecking ball to Pac-12 pitching. He put up an astonishing career line of .337/.443/.723 withe Sun Devils. That’s no typo, his career slugging percentage was north of the .700 mark. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, a total no player has ever put up in a single season wearing the Olde English D.
“A first baseman hasn’t gone No. 1 overall since Adrián González back in 2000,” noted MLB Pipeline, “but Torkelson has the chance to be a true impact bat, and in a hurry.”
There’s a good reason for teams’ reluctance to select a first baseman with the top pick in the MLB draft. The positional value of a first baseman places a tremendous burden on the player’s ability at the plate. As Chris Brown of Tigers Minor League Report crisply explained in a Twitter thread back in February, only four first baseman have managed to put up a 5-WAR season with a wRC+ lower than 140 since the turn of the century. In other words, the odds of a first baseman being a star-level player without being one of the best hitters in the sport are tremendously low.
Will Spencer Torkelson be one of the best hitters in the game? That would be far too aggressive of a prediction to place upon a player without a single professional at-bat. The question then becomes whether his floor is high enough to justify being the Tigers’ first-round selection.
“He controls at-bats extremely well and draws a ton of walks. He’s able to drive the ball from foul pole to foul pole and he uses the middle of the field when he’s at his best,” said MLB pipeline in their writeup on Torkelson. “He’s able to hit the ball out to all fields, with tremendous loft power to his pull side. He doesn’t sell out for that power, but gets to it with ease.”
FanGraphs was similarly complimentary of the first baseman in their scouting report.
“He has sublime hitter’s timing, plus bat speed, and above-average barrel control and ball/strike recognition, really only struggling with breaking balls located beneath the zone, which may be easy to remedy with a slightly longer stride,” they wrote.
With little on the depth chart to impede a hasty rise through the Tigers’ minor leagues, Torkelson would be a welcome addition to the Detroit farm system. Though his is a profile that has frightened off many teams with the top pick in past years, the Tigers need a bat. If they pull the trigger on the big slugger, he could become the jewel of the Detroit rebuild.