The Mariners have yet to repeat their dismal .250 winning percentage in May, but nevertheless seem to have punched their ticket to a bottom-ten finish in the 2019 standings. This is bad news for people who like good baseball, but does have the thinnest veneer of a silver lining if you love the idea of getting a top-ten talent in the 2020 draft. The 2020 draft promises to be much deeper than 2019’s, which was regarded by many experts as one of the thinnest in recent memory. While much can, and will, change between now and draft day, it’s worth keeping some names in mind to monitor leading up to the draft. Between now and then, we’ll profile some of the top talents in the 2020 class so you have an idea of who to keep tabs on. We’re starting the series off at the (for now) top, with Spencer Torkelson, the power-hitting first baseman from ASU.
To get this out of the way first: there’s most likely going to be a cluster of teams standing between the Mariners and Torkelson. For Orioles fans, the #TankForTork hashtag made the rounds almost as soon as #PlayBadlyForAdley ended, and there’s a host of other downtrodden fanbases lined up with their own Tork Barrel dreams. As it stands now, Torkelson is projected as a potential first overall selection. But a lot can happen in a year (and in the remainder of the baseball season), and Torkelson doesn’t play one of the most coveted spots on the diamond defensively, so it’s worth taking a look at what he has to offer.
Tork burst onto the scene as a freshman, leading the country with 25 home runs, breaking Barry Bonds’s record as a freshman (BB only had 11 in the same number of bats, although that’s probably like 22 accounting for launch angle inflation). For his achievements, he was named a Golden Spikes award semifinalist, adding to a list of accolades that’s lengthier than a drive down I-10 at rush hour. This past season, Torkelson proved that the sophomore slump is just a mindset, essentially repeating his freshman slash line. His slugging percentage dipped slightly, but his K% dropped almost four percent, to a tidy 18%. Torkelson isn’t just a slugger; he also brings a keen eye to the plate and is a tough out, often getting into protracted battles with the pitcher, something borne out by his double-digit walk rate. He’s able to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and comes to the plate with a plan rather than relying on his prodigious power alone.
A right-handed batter, Torkelson has a beautiful, compact swing that generates easy power to all fields thanks to a big, muscular, 6’1”/210 frame. He keeps his hands fairly close to his body as he swings, moving the bat quickly but also keeping it in the zone for an extended period of time, but doesn’t sacrifice any power in that approach because he’s so naturally strong. When he squares one up, it’s immediately evident:
Stop us if you've heard this before: Spencer Torkelson just hit a home run. @ASU_Baseball up 1-0 on the solo shot.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 17, 2019
Watch #Pac12BSB live on Pac-12 Now: https://t.co/aEp72M8TnI pic.twitter.com/KLF0BqS5WB
Torkelson does hit in the offensive-happy environment of Arizona, but he has a track record with a wood bat as well. Last summer he started on the Cape, hitting well there, and then went on to play with Team USA before returning to play out the rest of the summer on the Cape. His engine for baseball never stops.
The question for Torkelson is if he’ll be limited to first base or if a team could potentially switch him to a corner outfield spot. Thanks to his extensive history of success with a wood bat, the feeling among most scouts is that the bat will play at whatever position. Torkelson’s coach at ASU calls his bat special, and likens his power to Kyle Schwarber’s. After he hit 25 home runs as a freshman, there was talk of Torkelson maybe challenging Kris Bryant’s 31-homer season in his sophomore campaign; he fell short of his own record, as pitchers began to approach the powerful slugger more carefully. It will be interesting to see what kinds of numbers Torkelson is able to produce as a junior, especially now that Hunter Bishop, the other big threat in the ASU lineup, has moved on to MLB. For now, the baseball engine will keep chugging along, as Torkelson started off the summer with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League, but is currently with Team USA.
(David Attenborough voice) Behold, the mighty Spencer Torkelson in his natural habitat. Bat in his hands, baseball on the way, he's ready to do damage. pic.twitter.com/8vQV3b1lyy— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 28, 2019
The name Spencer Torkelson might conjure images of an Office Space-type character or the nerd on a Disney channel sitcom, but “Tork Bombs” are about to start dropping in MLB. It probably won’t be as a Mariner, unfortunately, but a year is a long time, and dreaming is free.