With the first pick of the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, the Detroit Tigers selected ASU’s Spencer Torkelson as a third baseman.
The chatter around the baseball world when the Tigers officially made Torkelson their No. 1 pick was focused on the club’s decision to tap him for third base. In two-plus seasons at ASU, Torkelson primarily played first base, only logging a handful of innings at the hot corner in the preseason.
But Torkelson, who was widely seen as the consensus No. 1 pick in the months leading up to the draft, says he learned of the positional change the same time as everyone else.
“The first time I knew they were drafting me as a third baseman was when the commissioner said, ‘Spencer Torkelson, third baseman.’”
The biggest draw to Torkelson is the bat and the raw power he possesses at just 20 years old. The third-base move is a testament to the Tigers’ belief in Torkelson’s defensive ability and athleticism, says Alan Trammell, special assistant to the general manager.
“Saying ‘Spencer Torkelson, third base,’ that’s a compliment to Spencer. If it doesn’t work out, we know he can play first. It can help the organization if he can,” the Hall of Famer says.
Since arriving in Tempe three years ago, Torkelson was determined to leave ASU as a first-round draft pick. Minutes after the 40th and final round of the 2017 draft, which saw Torkelson, then a high school senior, go undrafted, he phoned his uncle and a few friends. He wanted to hit, needed to lift the disappointment of not being selected by mashing baseballs “as hard as I could.”
“I told myself I was going to be a first-rounder out of ASU,” he says. “I think I realized that was an opportunity for me maybe four games into my freshman year. I was like, ‘Man, I’m doing pretty good at this thing. Let’s keep going.’”
And Torkelson quickly worked himself into the Sun Devil record books. He broke the school’s freshman home run record, surpassing Barry Bonds’ 11 in 1983, when he hit 25 in 2018.
He finished as a career .337 hitter, knocking in 130 runs and sporting a .729 slugging percentage, according to TheSunDevils.com. He became the fourth ASU player to be selected No. 1 overall, the first since Bob Horner in 1978.
Torkelson became the first college position player to go from being undrafted out of high school to the No. 1 pick, according to TheSunDevils.com. He’s the school’s 22nd first-round selection.
His 54 career big flies were second in school history, just two behind Horner’s 56. In a junior season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, Torkelson belted six home runs in 50 at-bats. With roughly 40 games left on the schedule, he was well on his way to becoming ASU’s home run king.
“He’s a special kid,” says Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “We saw Tork (in February) and about 5 minutes into it, Tram went, ‘I really like this guy.’ We got to see him early, before everything shut down. We saw the power, the athleticism, the plate discipline, the defense. It was just a total package.”
Torkelson says he attributes his rise to No. 1 overall to ASU’s ability to routinely develop players.
“They call it ‘MLB (University)’ for a reason. You know the alumni who walk the same halls as you. It’s a great place to play. My coaches, they’re unbelievable coaches, unbelievable guys. They all helped contribute to this. They know what they’re doing over there. It was so fun to be a part of it.”
He said under the circumstances the world is in—and subsequently, the sport—it remains to be seen when and where his professional career will begin.
“It’s so unpredictable. That conversation is for down the road,” he says. “Things are going to happen, but it’s such a weird time. It’s unknown.”
For now, on paper at least, Torkelson is a prized prospect in a rich Tigers’ farm system. The organization views him as a middle-of-the-order type of hitter who can be a pivotal piece of its future.
Is there pressure with that, with the notion that one 20-year-old kid is the savior of a struggling organization? Nah.
“Pressure is a privilege,” he says. “It’s a privilege. That pressure, whatever you want to call it, it drives me. It makes me work harder. I don’t let it faze me. It’s a privilege to be in the position I’m in.
“You just have to run away with it.”