The Tigers haven’t known one of those playoff baseball champagne spray-fests since 2014, opting instead Wednesday evening on sewing up 2019’s worst big-league record. And that at least entitles them to a a lovely parting prize: the first pick in the June, 2020, amateur draft.
Franchise players often arrive with a first overall pick. The Tigers need one. Of particular need is a booming bat that could equalize a roster now being reshaped and that, in time, figures to be heavy in pitching.
And so, the Spencer Torkelson vigil is under way.
Torkelson is a hitter currently hammering pitches that destroy outfield seats and surrounding cacti within range of Arizona State University.
He is a right-handed batter, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. He plays first base, with a corner-outfield slot not out of the question.
His rap sheet from 2019, as a sophomore, speaks to how Torkelson assaulted pitchers: .351 batting average in 57 games, 23 home runs, .446 on-base, .707 slugging, 1.153 OPS.
Yes, the Tigers could use him.
But it’s a funny thing about the baseball draft. It doesn’t always finish the way draft-handicapping began.
Players get hurt. They can have mysterious offseasons. Stuff happens.
With those realities in mind, a look at how – with nearly eight months to go before teams announce their verdicts – a 2020 Top 10 draft order today shakes out.
1. Torkelson: It is safe to believe all 30 big-league teams today have Torkelson at one-one overall. He is that talented, that pure of body and swing – and he’s young. He won’t turn 21 until late August, which speaks to blossoming and body-buildup yet ahead.
He is a fine defender, which is why the Tigers wouldn’t mind plugging him at first base, where defense is an overlooked imperative, and also where the Tigers have a huge organizational void.
The Tigers got slick prep outfielder Riley Greene in the past June’s draft. They need a Greene-Torkelson tandem at the heart of an order that could use hitters in abundance.
Torkelson has 70-grade power on the 80-score baseball scouting charts and a 60-level bat. He struck out 45 times in 57 games and drew 41 walks. It’s one more ratio the Tigers will like as they get ready for next June.
2. Emerson Hancock, 6-4, 200, RHP, University of Georgia: Your basic power-armed starter with a Southeastern Conference pedigree. Hancock can wheel fastballs in the high 90s and has the brand of control/command scouts adore. His secondary stuff – slider, changeup – are above average. If there’s any issue with Hancock, it’s the one that scares most front offices: He’s had some health questions.
But what scouts see is a pitcher whose upside, at the moment, might beat that of Detroit’s pick-of-the-litter from 2018: Casey Mize.
Note those numbers: 97 strikeouts in 90 innings, with 18 walks. That’s top-of-the-rotation gold, potentially, for Hancock’s big-league home.
3. Asa Lacy, 6-4, 215, LHP, Texas A&M: Another of those SEC guys who make Friday nights (ace time in college baseball) frightful for enemy hitters. Lacy is something of a Cliff Lee clone armed with a mid-90s fastball, a poisonous changeup, and breaking stuff that makes his other two pitches all the more life-threatening. The SEC is loaded with bats, but they don’t do much against Lacy, who can put the ball where he wishes and who changes speeds with a big-leaguer’s savvy.
It’s why during the 2019 campaign he struck out 130 batters in 88 innings for the Aggies.
4. Austin Martin, 6-0, 170, 3B/2B, Vanderbilt: If somehow Torkelson runs into issues in 2020 and a hitter unseats him at one-overall, it could be Martin. His position is an open book in that he played third base during the past year as a Vanderbilt sophomore, then center field during the summer for Team USA. Next year at Vanderbilt, it looks like shortstop for Martin, whose bat sends lightning bolts to all areas of the ballpark and whose power is expected to rise, maybe dramatically. Ultimately, in the big leagues, he might best fit at second base. Doesn’t matter. He’s going to hit. The Tigers will be keeping an eye on Vandy, as always. It’s a big-league draft’s annual warehouse.
5. Robert Hassell, 6-2, 190, CF/1B, Independence High, Franklin, Tenn.: If the Tigers want another Riley Greene-type talent, this could be their guy: Hassell is a Vandy commit, but that isn’t happening unless he shakes past habits. He’s one of those valid five-tool studs who has eviscerated pitchers on every level, including at the World Championships as he worked for Team USA.
If you don’t mind grabbing a prep superstar over Torkelson or Martin, this is your man.
6. Mick Abel, 6-5, 185, RHP, Tigard (Oregon) Jesuit High: Best combination of stuff, command, and projection in any of America’s high schools. Mid-90s fastball from a buttery-smooth delivery, excellent changeup for a teen, and an above- average slider. Another of those thoroughbreds who already has chewed up national-level travel competition. He’s going to Oregon State if things don’t work out next spring. But the Beavers aren’t counting on Abel heading anywhere next summer but to some blessed team’s farm.
7. Cole Wilcox, 6-5, 232, RHP, University of Georgia: SEC hitters might want to call in sick during weekend series against the Bulldogs in 2020. You’ll get Hancock on Friday, and Wilcox on Saturday, and Sunday will indeed be a day of (comparative) rest. Wilcox is a draft-eligible sophomore who throws harder, with a better slider, than his cohort Hancock. The difference, no surprise, is command and secondary stuff that isn’t quite as slick. But that’s why the minor leagues exist.
8. Austin Hendrick, 6-1, 205, RF, West Allegheny High, Oakdale, Pa.: Another of those Riley Greene types in that he has a left-handed bat made partially of dynamite. He did have issues with breaking stuff during the summer, although nothing that overly bothered scouts who see in Hendrick an astonishingly gifted weapon.
9. Jared Kelley, 6-2, 200, RHP, Refugio (Texas) High: Not as big as Abel, which means the world to big-league sleuths. But this is a kid with a mid-to-high 90s heater and a slider-change combo that’s way above sea level.
10. Drew Romo, 6-1, 205, C, The Woodlands (Texas) High: Even more than is customary in the casino game known as drafting prep talent, there is a roulette-wheel spin with catchers, as the Tigers learned with supposed hotshot Sam McMillan. But in Romo, suitors will see a switch-hitter with all the athleticism and defense a teen can supposedly offer. The chances he follows through on a Louisiana State commit: negligible. Romo has All-Star potential.
The above 10 will, of course, be shuffled like a canasta deck as spring 2020 unfurls. But in those names and talents are a slew of likely early-10 picks.
And for a team selecting ahead of 29 other big-league clubs, the top prize is likely to be just that: a glamorous franchise player who can help turn around a team’s currently sorry fortunes.