Tigers draft watch: Nick Gonzales debuts with four-homer weekend

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

This is the second in a series of updates on players the Tigers could select with the No. 1 overall pick in June’s MLB Draft.

For amateur scouts, February blessedly means an end to depending on the previous year’s stale data and scouting notebooks.

A new season is here. And so are fresh glimpses at guys who, in terms of the Tigers’ particular station in this year’s draft, are working to sell themselves as the best possible pick at that first-overall slot Detroit owns in June.

Nick Gonzales

For now, it’s still a two-car race: Spencer Torkelson, or Austin Martin. It might not shake out that way for every big-league team. But the Tigers need hitters, the more the better, which is likely what they’ll gorge upon when they are staring at four of this year’s first 75 picks.

Here’s how the top 10 lads stack up a week after the 2020 college season opened:

►1. Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State, 6-foot-1, 220, 1B: When he wasn’t being walked — intentionally, unintentionally, whatever — during last weekend’s opening acts at Phoenix, Torkelson was hitting the ball. Hard. Two home runs would attest there. He also had his share of line-outs and scalded ground balls. His strike-zone mastery is one more talent Torkelson displays in the extreme. Meanwhile, his defense at first, which is a delight, showed why scouts believe Torkelson can play at any corner position — infield or outfield. Until further notice, he’s the 2020 draft’s top prize.

►2. Austin Martin, Vanderbilt, 6-foot, 170, 3B: Was just fine in his opening weekend, although it’s fair to wonder where Martin best fits, position-wise, in the big leagues. He can play anywhere, effectively, although the infield’s left side might not be his position as much as center field, where some scouts see him best-helping a future team. The important part is indisputable: his bat. Martin centers a pitch in sublime fashion. He and Torkelson will enjoy an ongoing duel all the way to June.

►3. Emerson Hancock, University of Georgia, 6-4, 213, RH starter: Good grief, the man is indeed mortal. Hancock threw four innings in last Friday’s start against Richmond. He was whacked for nine hits and six earned runs. He allowed a pair of back-to-back homers. Do not expect this to be a habit. Hancock’s pitches were moving at customary speeds and spin-rates. A handful of weak ground balls were part of that alleged nine-hit assault. A lousy start isn’t any pitcher, college or big-league.

►4. Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State, 5-10, 190, 2B: Nice little game Sunday for Gonzales: three home runs, nine RBIs, all part of a four-homer weekend against Texas Southern. Gonzales is quite the right-handed batting marvel. Some analysts, looking for a flaw, believe the thin mountain air in Las Cruces is one of Gonzales’ best friends. But he’s hit everywhere, regardless of geography. An extraordinary story perhaps unfolding here.

►5. Asa Lacy, Texas A&M, 6-4, 215, LH starter: Nothing out of place in Lacy’s first start, last Friday, against Miami: six innings, three hits, a lone run, two walks, eight whiffs. The two walks might be most refreshing for scouts, who want Lacy’s control to match his overall prowess. Expect superior, and more dramatic, numbers from him throughout spring 2020.

►6. Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee, 6-6, 218, LH starter: The man who can, with that size and 100-mph fastball, dredge up old images of Randy Johnson, is temporarily resting. He had a bit of tenderness in that big left arm of his and was held out of last weekend’s games. He might also sit this weekend at the Round Rock Classic. Nothing serious happening here, Tennessee’s stewards say. And as long as he misses only a couple of weekends, that’s reassuring.

►7. Jared Kelley, Refugio (Texas) High, 6-2, 200, RH starter: Scouts will get their first 2020 peek at Kelley beginning Monday, when Refugio High begins its 2020 tussles. But what they know about Kelley isn’t likely changing, except for the better. Kelly could be the best prep pitcher in the land.

►8. Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks East High, Doylestown, Pa., 6-4, 220, RH starter: Tune in a month from now and inspect how this draft-eligible 17-year-old is faring. All because Bitsko has the capacity to dazzle. Central Bucks East High doesn’t begin its schedule until March 12. Scouts figure Bitsko will continue to show why first-round draft dollars and millionaire status will be sufficient to pry him from his University of Virginia commitment.

►9. Austin Hendrick, West Allegheny High, Oakdale, Pa., 6-1, 205, OF: West Allegheny, like most schools north of the tropics, he won’t begin its season until mid-March. Until then, Hendrick, a left-handed batter with an equally big left arm, will remain one of those prep thoroughbreds who figures to go — early — in June’s draft bonanza.

►10. Carmen Mlodzinski, University of South Carolina, 6-2, 231, RH starter: He began somewhat humbly last Friday against Holy Cross. Mlodzinski pitched more with craftsmanship than with fury during six shutout innings against Holy Cross. He allowed six hits. He struck out three and walked one. Mlodzinski was hurt a year ago before regaining vigor in the Cape Cod League. Expect his stuff, and stock, to steadily rise.

►Others to watch: Mick Abel, Jesuit High, Portland, Ore., RH starter; 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., SS; Casey Martin, University of Arkansas, SS; Garrett Mitchell, UCLA, OF; Tyler Soderstrom, Turlock (Calif.) High, C; Zac Veen, Spruce Creek High, Port Orange, Fla., OF.