Everything in baseball is up in the air right now. There may or may not be a season, the draft might be smaller, and that is just the beginning. One of the few certainties, is that most important move of the year for the Detroit Tigers will be their selection with the first overall pick. That’s a task made tougher by the cancellation of the college and high school seasons.
Speculation is all we have at this point. Baseball America releases periodic mock drafts, and from their first 2020 edition they’ve had the Tigers selection as Vanderbilt's Austin Martin. However, that changed in their latest mock draft, where Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson is now projected to be the number one overall pick.
In just 17 games before the season was cut short, Torkelson smacked six home runs while slashing .340/.598/.780 with 31 walks. As expected, he was nearly unpitchable and many chose not to try him. That impressive stint did nothing but help his case to become Detroit’s choice to kick off the draft.
Torkelson’s terrific hitting ability, advanced approach and plate discipline, plus bat speed, and plus-plus power make him one of the favorites for the first overall pick. Hitting with power to all fields, Torkelson showed more of an ability to pull pitches over the middle of the plate during his abbreviated junior season.
Playing first base in college doesn’t have to mean that’s where Torkelson sticks in pro ball, but in this case that’s the most likely scenario. Torkelson doesn’t run particularly well, but he might have enough to play left field according to one Baseball America scouting report. His arm will hold him back there, however. A pick of Torkelson is a pick for his bat, playing first would allow him to focus on developing that part of his game.
There is a certain stigma against taking a first baseman with the first overall pick. The position limits the potential of a player. For a team to take a surefire first base prospect first overall, he has to be an extremely special hitter. In the history of the MLB Draft it’s only happened once; Adrian Gonzalez was taken first overall out of high school by the Marlins back in the year 2000. Should Torkelson be the pick, he will be the first college first baseman with the distinction of first overall pick.
The added pressure of his position aside, the decision will have to come down to who gives the Tigers the best chance to blossom into an impact player. With his advanced approach and power, that very well could be Torkelson. He gets nothing but sparkling reviews from evaluators, and that includes MLB Pipeline.
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.
It’s believed that Torkelson can be a quick riser, which means he won’t be to far behind the coveted pitching prospects that are expected in Detroit sooner than later. Last year’s first rounder, Riley Greene, is very promising, but he’s only a year out of high school. That leaves the Tigers with little excitement in the world of youthful bats beyond Isaac Parades and modest hope of a breakout at the plate somewhere in the system.
Torkelson’s ascension in the Baseball America mock draft has more to do with his performance than poor play by Martin. In the 16 games Vanderbilt got to play, Martin slashed .377/.507/.660 and drove in the same amount of runs as Torkelson with 11. The pick could still go either way according to Carlos Collazo.
There’s a much smaller gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 in this year’s class than in the 2018 or 2019 drafts.
The last time Detroit held this pick, Casey Mize was the clear cut choice. In a full season, maybe things would have gotten clearer. Still the fundamental choice hasn’t changed.
Both Torkelson and Martin should hit. Martin has more tools and a wider path to success. Torkelson is the safer bet to mash. More looks this spring are not a luxury the Tigers will have, but what seems certain is that either Torkelson or Martin’s name will be called first in July.