Arizona State Sun Devils star first baseman Spencer Torkelson is primed to be the first overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft
With the draft just one day away, there have been no significant changes in what has long been the narrative for the Detroit Tigers as it pertains to their first overall selection in the MLB Draft Wednesday night. Most, if not all of the major publications are projecting the Detroit Tigers to draft Spencer Torkelson with their first overall pick.
In fact, even those like The Athletic’s Keith Law, who opined that Austin Martin is the better draft prospect of the two, mocked Spencer Torkelson recently to the Tigers and put his odds at 80% that his name will be called first. To find this type of consensus, one would have to travel all the way back to, well, 2018–where the Tigers again had first overall and did the predictable when they called Casey Mize, right-handed pitcher, Auburn University.
So, assuming Detroit does take the straightforward route, they receive a lot of what their system desperately needs: a legitimate prospect at the first base position, a power bat, and a player unafraid to take his free passes when they are presented to him. But they also receive a winning mentality. In an MLB.com interview, ASU hitting coach Michael Earley recalls, “There’s that ‘The Last Dance’ documentary…and they talk a lot about Michael Jordan’s mindset. Spencer Torkelson has that mindset and will to win, and that’s what makes him great.”
Make no mistake, the Detroit Tigers have some excellent characters within their system, but a little bit of that Michael Jordan fire would be welcomed to a team that appears content with losing at the major league level. Like Mike, Spencer Torkelson was undrafted in high school but has shot up draft boards since breaking Barry Bonds’ freshman home run record at Arizona State. This is what to expect out of Torkelson:
The clear and obvious strength of Spencer Torkelson is, well, his strength. His power is ridiculous; achieving a 70-grade on the 20-80 scale from most scouts in the game. He can go to all fields with the bat in a short, compact way while the ball still carries on contact. With his feet, he has the Miguel Cabrera approach many times; where he will do nothing but slightly pivot the front foot during the load, but still generating enough torque with his hips to generate speed and leverage. The finish, however, mimics that of Justin Upton or Mike Trout, where it seems as if they are not getting their swing all the way through. Yet, the ball explodes.
For someone with that much potential in their bat, it is tempting to infer that someone like Torkelson would strike out a lot. Ironically, Torkelson has an excellent eye with a fairly average k-rate of 16.5 percent. With Torkelson, the Tigers would not have to sacrifice strikeouts for power; as Torkelson has proved an impressive eye in college. Over his three years at ASU, he has walked in 17.5 percent of his plate appearances. In his Junior 2020 campaign, he would walk 31 times in just 17(!) games. Some of these walks were intentional, but if anything, that speaks to the threat he is when he does get something good to hit.
Torkelson also may provide some versatility, depending on who is asked. He has played first base for Arizona State, but many state that the reason behind his position is more revolved around the construct of the ASU roster more than it is about Torkelson’s inability to handle another spot. Keith Law believes Torkelson is best-suited for first base or left field; while Tigers Minor League Report’s Harris Frommer believes he could also handle third base. Tracy Smith, Torkelson’s head coach, argued recently in an interview with the Detroit News writer Lynn Henning that he wouldn’t be surprised if Torkelson ended up at second base long-term.
Regardless of his predestined home, his athleticism gives him options and how his body continues to develop over the next couple of years will ultimately play into where he ends up. The most likely spot is first base, but even there he is no slouch. Expect hustle, soft hands, and surprising range even at a position widely-viewed as a spot for a liability.
As is the case with most first base prospects, Torkelson projects to be a below-average runner at the next level. His 6′ 1″, 220 lbs frame, for a player that will not be of legal drinking age until August, only figures to continue to fill out and mature as he makes his way through the minor leagues. Steals do not necessarily mark the speed of a runner, but that will not be a part of his game either; with just 7 stolen bases across his 129-game NCAA career.
The other perceived weakness with Torkelson is simply the fact that he plays first base; and maybe that sentiment is legitimate. He would be just the second pure first baseman to go first overall next to Florida Marlins’ Adrian Gonzalez in 2000; a year in which Al Avila was the Director of Scouting. If Torkelson does indeed stay at first base, it will certainly put pressure on his bat, as Tigers Minor League Report’s Chris Brown outlined nicely here. If the Tigers believe Torkelson can continue to mash, or if they believe he can handle another position the same or better than first base, this perceived weakness should not spook the Tigers. If he is indeed a true first baseman and they are not absolutely sold on the hit tool, that is where his risk comes into play.
Virtually every expert and analyst has mocked Spencer Torkelson as the first overall pick to the Detroit Tigers in this year’s MLB Draft. His hitting ability, the higher floor, the potential versatility, and his work ethic all work together and it would be difficult to find a Tigers fan who would not be happy with such a selection. Torkelson is first on Fangraphs’ THE BOARD.
The only two possibilities outside of Torkelson are the previously mentioned Austin Martin from Vanderbilt and left-handed starter Asa Lacy from Texas A&M. The latter is particularly interesting in that ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel gave Lacy a 15% chance to go to Detroit; citing there are some people in Detroit who actually favor Lacy to Torkelson.