As all eyes turn to the playoffs, the Detroit Tigers’ season quietly ended with their 114th loss. Although it makes for nearly unwatchable baseball, finishing with the worst record in the sport means the Tigers will have the first selection in the 2020 MLB draft. It’s far too early to have any certainty about the particulars of the draft — it’s a notoriously difficult exercise, even days before the event. However, scouting is getting better and better, and we are generally able to figure out the top players in the class this far out.
Baseball America decided to undertake that project, piecing together a prediction for the top 10 picks in next year’s draft. With the first selection, the Tigers are anticipated to take Austin Martin of Vanderbilt University.
The Vanderbilt star is an elite talent, routinely looking the part of a five-tool player. Martin doesn’t have a firm defensive home, but unlike many in that boat, it isn’t due to a lack of defensive acumen. He could settle in at shortstop, second base, third base, or center field. It isn’t clear yet which position will extract the most value from his performance. He figures to be above average no matter where he ends up defensively, but his appeal is centered mainly on his bat.
What sets Martin apart from the pack is his contributions to the Commodores’ lineup. He boasts both power and contact ability. In their brief assessment, Baseball America noted that Martin “took a big step forward in the power department” last season. It’s also important to note that his power is derived from bat speed, which is an encouraging sign that it will hold up better both against higher velocity and as he ages. Another encouraging report came from MLB.com, who wrote that he also has excellent feel for the barrel. That will allow him to bring his power into games.
The real draw is his plus hit tool. Martin is a well-polished offensive machine, and he led the SEC in both batting average and on-base percentage. Scouts believe he has the best hit tool of anyone in the college crop. That manifested itself in a huge statistical year, as he batted a Ted Williams-esque line of .410/.503/.619. Martin’s well-rounded offensive game would be a welcome addition to the Tigers’ organization, which is riddled with strikeout issues at every level.
Martin would fit in nicely with both the needs of the organization and the Tigers’ next projected competitive window if he is the top choice. While it’s always best to take the best player available regardless of their position or age, Martin is a candidate to be rushed to the majors because he’s already so good. That would put him just behind the core of talented young arms that are to hit the bigs as soon as late next season.
If Martin isn’t the choice, another college bat could supplant him as the favorite. Spencer Torkelson is the rare first baseman to make waves at the top of the draft because his tremendous power plays well in games. While he isn’t a pure hitter like Martin, Torkelson will likely be in play for the first pick because his track record of success is just so attractive. Some evaluators even rank him as the best bat in the class, but Martin has the edge for now because of his superior athleticism and defensive work.