Spencer Torkelson, who was taken by the Detroit Tigers with the first pick in 2020 MLB draft Wednesday night, had the same walk-up song for his entire career at Arizona State, as he became one of the best hitters in college baseball:
“Yeah, ain’t no body leavin’,
No body goin’ home
Even if they turn the lights out, the show is goin’ on!”
The song by rapper Lupe Fiasco has a positive message about striving for your goals, no matter the circumstances, which seems so fitting at this moment. Because Torkelson has had the same goal since he was about 5 years old: To play professional baseball.
Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson (Photo: Peter Vander Stoep)
Now, he has that chance.
Torkelson is exactly what the Tigers need in their system — a power-hitter who can hit for average, get on base and blast home runs.
“You just lift your arms higher…
Let em’ know you’re there
That you struggling and survivin’
That you gonna persevere…”
Struggling and survivin’?
In many ways, Torkelson is, once again, trying to beat the odds.
When he was 15, Torkelson was invited to try out for USA Baseball. “I got cut from that team,” he told the Free Press in February. “It was kind of devastating. But I bounced back quick. I finally made the USA Team my freshman year of college.”
As he talked, you could hear the drive in his voice.
The son of two accountants, Torkelson was not drafted coming out of high school in Petaluma, California.
As a freshman, he was inserted into the Arizona State lineup as a designated hitter in his first college game, but after that, he moved to first base, where he became an All-American.
But that presented a problem for the Tigers. It would be risky to take a first baseman this high in the draft — he would become the first right-handed-hitting first baseman ever taken with the first pick. Because first basemen are considered one-trick ponies — all bat, not much help defensively.
But the Tigers believe he is athletic enough to play another position, which changes everything. The Tigers announced Torkelson as a third baseman on Wednesday night, indicating their future plans.
Certainly, it is worth the risk to move him. He’s not just a big basher. He’s an athlete who played youth hockey, middle school basketball and four years of high school football.
And if he can make the transition to third base or even the outfield, if he can contribute with his bat and his glove, the Tigers will have found an absolute gem.
In that case, if it works out, taking him first overall just turned into a no-brainer.
Because of his bat.
Torkelson hit 54 home runs in two-plus seasons at Arizona State, and broke Barry Bond’s freshman record.
Yes, that Barry Bonds.
This was the most unusual draft ever. The coronavirus pandemic shut down the baseball season for college and high school players. That made evaluations tricky for scouts and general managers, which put the Tigers in a precarious position.
In an ideal world, needing an influx of bats, the Tigers would have used this top pick for a shortstop or center fielder. The Tigers could have taken Vanderbilt’s all-everything Austin Martin. I am convinced Martin is going to be an outstanding professional because he can play defense, run and hit. But Martin is not an ideal center fielder or a natural shortstop. His weakness is his arm and he is not blazing fast, although he gets great jumps. He is a doubles hitter, who figures to gain more strength with time. Most project him to be a second baseman.
In comparison, Torkelson is a prodigious power hitter. If you study the Tigers’ minor league system, the Torkelson pick makes even more sense. He gives the Tigers a big bat that they need desperately.
And that’s why Avila took Torkelson, in a year when he had to nail this pick.
The other thing to like about Torkelson is his age. He is 20 years old.
Riley Greene, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2019, will turn 20 in September. So even though Torkelson spent three years in college, Torkelson is only one year older.
They have a chance to come up together and become the nucleus of the future, the faces of the franchise, joining all those talented pitchers in the minor league system.
In the end, the Tigers took the best player available. And they were lucky because he happens to fill their biggest need.
There is a lot to love about this pick, especially if he can play third base or even left field. This doesn’t complete the Tigers’ rebuild, but it gives it a strong boost.
Because Torkelson has the potential to become a star.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.