NEW YORK – The Detroit Tigers selected Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the No. 1 pick Wednesday night in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
The baseball-bashing Torkelson was long considered the favorite to go first overall. The surprise came when he was announced as a third baseman by Commissioner Rob Manfred, rather than a first baseman.
Detroit plans to move Torkelson to the hot corner from first base, where he played in college.
“It shows the amount of respect they have for me as an athlete,” a smiling Torkelson said in an interview during MLB Network’s broadcast. “I’ll take it and run with it. I like to label myself as a baseball player, and you give me a bat, a ball and a glove, and you know what? I’m just going to want to win.”
After having the majors’ worst record last season, Detroit opened the draft for the second time in three years. The Tigers took Auburn right-hander Casey Mize in 2018, and now they’ve got a powerful bat that could anchor their lineup for years to come to go along with an arm they hope is a future ace.
This year’s draft was originally scheduled to be held for the first time in Omaha, Nebraska, as a lead-in to the College World Series. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic caused baseball to make some drastic changes, including holding the draft as a remote event — much like the NFL did in April — and shortening it from three days with 40 rounds to just two days and five rounds.
Manfred announced the first-round selections, as he has done since taking over for Bud Selig in 2015. Manfred also addressed racial injustice and the recent protests that have taken place all around the country and the world. All 30 team representatives, operating remotely, held up signs at the beginning of the broadcast that read: “Black Lives Matter. United For Change.”
The shortened college and high school baseball seasons presented unique challenges for big league scouting departments, which had to rely more on videos of players instead of attending games to help with their evaluations.
Despite all that, Torkelson was the clear top pick for Detroit.
With power to all fields and a great eye at the plate, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Torkelson established himself as college baseball’s top slugger after going undrafted out of high school. He hit 54 home runs at Arizona State, finishing two shy of the school record set by Bob Horner — who went No. 1 overall in 1978.
Torkelson likely would have obliterated that mark if his college season hadn’t been canceled after just 17 games because of the pandemic. The Petaluma, California, native hit .340 with six homers and 11 RBIs this year.
“We know he can play first. But our scouts strongly feel that he can play third base, and that’s out intent at this point,” Detroit general manager Al Avila said on the ESPN broadcast. “He’s exactly the type of player we hoped would be there for us to get with the top pick. Obviously, he’s one of the most productive hitters in college history.”
The Tigers’ selection of Torkelson marked the second straight year a college position player was taken with the first pick after Baltimore chose Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman last year. It’s the first time that has happened since Milwaukee took North Carolina catcher B.J. Surhoff in 1985 and Pittsburgh selected Arkansas third baseman Jeff King a year later.
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad went No. 2 overall to Baltimore, which took Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the top pick a year ago. The powerful, left-handed hitting Kjerstad was considered arguably the best all-around college outfielder in the draft.
Minnesota ace right-hander Max Meyer went third to Miami. He was a two-way star in college and a closer before moving into the Gophers’ rotation as a sophomore. Meyer’s slider is wicked, hitting the upper-80s (mph) and low-90s consistently, and is complemented by a mid-to-upper-90s fastball — all with a smooth delivery.
Texas A&M fireballing lefty Asa Lacy was the No. 4 pick by Kansas City. Lacy surpassed pitcher Jeff Granger (No. 5 by the Royals in 1993) as the highest-drafted player in school history. He has a three-quarters delivery and terrific repertoire led by an overpowering mid- to upper-90s fastball, to go along with a hard slider, solid curveball and good changeup.
Rounding out the top 5 picks was Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin, who was taken by Toronto as a shortstop after he played third base this season and last. Martin was considered a possibility to go No. 1, but slid a few spots. He was rated by some as the best pure hitter — college or high school — in this year’s class.
The first round of the draft will be completed, along with eight competitive balance round selections, on Wednesday night — 37 picks in all. Rounds 2-5 will be held Thursday night, for a total of 160 players selected.
Undrafted players will need to wait until Sunday before they can sign with major league teams, who can offer signing bonuses only up to $20,000 as agreed upon by Major League Baseball and the players’ association. That could prompt many players to instead go back to school or junior college and be eligible again for the draft next year — when big league teams can cap it at 20 rounds if they choose.
Houston will have to wait a while before it makes its first picks after being stripped of its first- and second-round selections by Manfred as part of the team’s punishment for breaking rules against using electronics to steal signs during games. The Astros get started with pick No. 72, which they received as compensation for the loss of pitcher Gerrit Cole, who signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.
Boston lost its second-round pick for violating rules against in-game use of video to identify pitch signals.
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