Detroit – Technically, three of the Tigers six picks in last week’s amateur draft are third basemen. Which, when you look at their depth chart and see Jeimer Candelario, Dawel Lugo, Isaac Paredes, Nick Quintana and Andre Lipcius all 26 years of age and younger, you might wonder what the heck is going on?
It may seem like the Tigers are stockpiling third basemen, but really, they are not. They are drafting players who project to hit and hit for power. That they are listed at third base, especially in the case of the three players drafted last week – Spencer Torkelson, Gage Workman and Colt Keith – well, that’s more like an initial thought than a permanent designation.
Torkelson, the first overall pick in the draft, spent the bulk of his career at Arizona State at first base, largely because the Sun Devils had three other outstanding fielding infielders – shortstop Alika Williams (drafted 37th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays), second baseman Drew Swift, one of the slickest fielders in college baseball, and last but not least, third baseman Workman, whom the Tigers selected in the fourth round (102nd overall).
“Yeah I was surprised when they drafted Tork as a third baseman,” Workman joked on a conference call last week. “I thought maybe the Tigers were taking me first overall.”
Truth is, Sun Devils coach Tracy Smith could have arranged his infielders any way he wanted last season without losing much defensively.
“That’s what we did every practice,” Workman said. “We were always moving around positions. Drew Swift is a phenomenal defender. We all moved around. We all played shortstop and tried to make plays the others couldn’t make.
“And for the most part, we were all making the same plays. It was fun.”
The Tigers are listing Torkelson, Workman and 18-year-old high school star Keith as third basemen, only because there is no position listing for “athlete.” All three could end up playing multiple positions, including outfield.
But where they play is of secondary importance to the Tigers, who project all three to be productive, impact hitters.
“We wanted impact,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers' director of amateur scouting. “We weren’t looking at position, we were looking for impact players.”
Tigers general manager Al Avila, when asked specifically about Torkelson playing third base, reminded everyone that he was part of the team in Miami that signed Miguel Cabrera as a shortstop. Cabrera broke into the big leagues as a corner outfielder and has played third and first in Detroit.
Their offense will dictate how fast they get to the big leagues. What position they end up playing will likely be determined by the roster needs at that time. It’s a positive, not a negative.
“Hey, I don’t mind competing with Tork,” Workman said. “We’re good buddies. We will work well together. We will make each other better, just like we did the last three years at Arizona State.”
Workman, still just 20 years old, is a 6-4, 200-pound switch-hitter, who some feel has more raw power than Torkelson.
“We haven’t done a home run derby, one on one against each other,” he said. “It’s probably close. He might have a slight edge on me. But if we’re talking left-handed, I think I got him left-handed.”
Good one. Torkelson, of course, bats right-handed. But the one true edge Torkelson has on Workman at this stage is plate discipline. Between his sophomore and shortened junior season, Workman struck out 89 times in 74 games.
“Yeah, that’s the thing I was working on – contact, pitch selection, trying to work counts better and maybe draw a few more walks,” he said. “Just get deeper in counts.”
Workman did damage, too. In his sophomore season he hit .330, produced eight home runs, scored 40 runs and knocked in 42. So, as Pleis noted – there is upside here, a lot of it.
“He’s got huge power,” Pleis said. “Switch-hitter, good athlete, can run and throw. He does a good job at third base, but we’re not ruling out him playing other positions. Like I said, he has huge power and he’s growing into being a good hitter.”
He also brings some intangibles – like relentless hustle and fiery competitiveness.
“I think I’m a pretty explosive player,” he said. “I’m versatile. I can play all over the infield. High energy, lots of excitement. I think I’m a pretty fun player to watch.”
It might be a while before we’ll get to watch him, sadly.
Who knows when baseball will sort out its labor issues or when the coronavirus will relent long enough to let the game return? When it does, though, it will be intriguing to see how this collection of “athletes” the Tigers have assembled at the hot corner shakes out.”
“I don’t know where we’re going from here,” Workman said. “But I am happy to be a Tiger and I’m excited to start doing whatever they’re going to have me do.”