Tigers will have loaded list of candidates for No. 1 overall pick in MLB draft

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Editor's note: This is a first in a series looking at players who the Tigers could select with the No. 1 overall pick in June's MLB draft.

A certain big-league team from Detroit has been at work considering how it will handle a rather key moment facing the Tigers in four quick months.

Arizona State's Spencer Torkelson batted .351, with 23 homers, and a .707 slugging percentage last season as a sophomore.

The first overall pick in the June 10 amateur draft belongs to Detroit. This spotlight draft status wasn’t by design — the Tigers had to finish with baseball’s worst record in 2019 to grab their, uh, prize.

But who they pick in June could, and should, be at the heart of whatever good comes Comerica Park’s way in coming seasons.

Fortunately for the Tigers, the 2020 draft is so loaded at the top the Tigers will enjoy figuring out who best belongs in that No. 1 slot. Or, maybe it’s already clear that Arizona State basher Spencer Torkelson is their man.

He is a 6-foot-1, 220-pound, right-handed batting bruiser. He plays first base for ASU but could, some scouts believe, easily move to a corner outfield spot, or even to third base, rather than be considered exclusively as the first baseman he is for the Sun Devils.

Torkelson is a superb hitter with premier power. He knows the strike zone. And if it weren’t for the three potential first-round picks already working in ASU’s infield, Torkelson might already be playing third base.

He’ll be performing this weekend at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and against Michigan Saturday night. Torkelson will be working not far from where another possible Tigers first-overall grab also will be featured: Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin, who will be part of a separate tournament at Salt River Fields, in Scottsdale, which includes Michigan.

Martin, like Torkelson, is a dazzling hitter. Martin can handle any position in the infield. And he is so deft at defense and at running, it’s possible he’ll play center field in the big leagues.

For some, he is an instant comparison to Astros celebrity Alex Bregman, although it isn’t clear he’ll ever have Bregman’s power. That could be a deciding issue when the Tigers finally end whatever suspense remains with that June 10 choice.

Of course, being the Tigers, a pitcher also could persuade them that he’s too good to ignore.

In any number of past drafts, University of Georgia right-hand wizard Emerson Hancock potentially would be an easy choice at one-one, as that first overall pick is colloquially known.

Hancock is just that good, just that special in terms of repertoire, body, and in artistry displayed in baseball’s best conference, the SEC.

The Tigers, though, need a truckload of bats. Bats, it might be added, which can expect to demolish Comerica’s fences and seats as soon as possible.

It is why, almost certainly, they’ll go for Torkelson or Martin, unless health flaws or some mysterious malaise crops up between now and June.

With that understood, a look at how June’s Top 10 draft picks might stack up with four months — and a good deal of pecking-order tumult — surely ahead.

1. Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State, 6-1, 220, 1B: He hit a couple of 400-foot screamers during a Sunday preview scrimmage, which is just another day in the lineup for Torkelson. He batted .351, with 23 homers, and a .707 slugging percentage last season as a sophomore. Had a .446 on-base average, good for your basic 1.153 OPS. Torkelson turns 21 in August. He’s the one to beat if you’re hoping to snare Detroit’s first-overall grab.

2. Austin Martin, Vanderbilt, 6-foot, 170, 3B: Last season, he merely batted .392/.486/.604/1.090, which was one reason why Vandy won the College World Series. Martin has tremendous bat-to-ball prowess and, if he shows during his junior year power that impresses scouts more than they were affected a year ago, Martin could yet slip into that first-overall chair.

3. Emerson Hancock, University of Georgia, 6-4, 213, RH starter: Has all the requisites big-league teams appreciate at a rotation’s top: high-90s fastball, breaking pitch, change, with a body that’s also appealing. Put some added muscle on this lad and a team likely has its ace — as much as pitchers can be trusted -— for a lengthy time.

4. Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee, 6-6, 218, LH starter: Opponent batters might want to call in sick on days Crochet works. He has a 100-mph heater, which means, if you’re a left-handed batter, it would be prudent to approach home plate towing a life-insurance policy. He moves this year from the bullpen to Tennessee’s rotation, which will determine how quickly he’s slurped up in June’s draft. But the expectation is he won’t last long.

5. Asa Lacy, LH, Texas A&M, 6-4, 215, LH starter: Bat-busting left-handers are heavy weaponry. Lacy has nukes for pitches, although he’ll need to throw a few more strikes in 2020 if he’s set on sticking in a top-five draft slot. He’s a junior, as well, and last year struck out 130 batters in 88.2 innings. Also walked 43, so there’s work ahead.

6. Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State, 5-10, 190, 2B: Exceptional slasher who was knocked a bit for hitting his bombs in New Mexico’s high-altitude air. Showed during last season’s summer tour that he can slug, anywhere. He batted .432 in 2019 for the Aggies, with a preposterous 1.305 OPS in 55 games. Someone’s going to get a trophy player in Gonzales.

7. Jared Kelley, Refugio (Texas) High, 6-2, 200, RH starter: As much as you can trust prep pitchers, Kelley probably qualifies. Has extraordinary pitches and body quality for a prep kid. Scouts are hoping to see how his curveball fares this spring. It’s not yet a plus-pitch, although everything else about Kelley is plus-plus.

8. Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks East High, Doylestown, Pa., 6-4, 220, RH starter: He is all of 17, and is graduating early, which makes him draft-eligible in June. That’s lovely news in the view of scouts who have been following Bitsko and who believe he’ll easily be lured from his University of Virginia commit. He’s a youngster who throws in the mid-90s, with all the body and delivery traits scouts adore.

9. Austin Hendrick, West Allegheny High, Oakdale, Pa., 6-1, 205, OF: Left-handed slasher with a big arm. Probably a right fielder here, but potentially has the dash to play center. Won’t matter when his power should make him indispensable anywhere in a lineup.

10. Carmen Mlodzinski, University of South Carolina, 6-2, 231, RH starter: He was hurt much of his sophomore year, then healed up in time to blow away Cape Cod summer batters. Nothing pleasant about his 99-mph fastball. Has a body that’s already big-league. Should be a big spring for Mlodzinski, and rough times for enemy SEC batters.

Others to watch: Mick Abel, RH starter, Jesuit High, Portland, Ore; Reid Detmers, University of Louisville, LH starter; J.T. Ginn, Mississippi State, RH starter; Robert Hassell III, Independence High, Franklin, Tenn., OF; Ed Howard, Mount Carmel High, Lynwood, Ill., shortstop; Casey Martin, University of Arkansas, shortstop; Garrett Mitchell, UCLA, outfielder; Tyler Soderstrom, Turlock (Calif.) High, catcher; Zac Veen, Spruce Creek High, Port Orange, Fla., outfielder.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.