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Spencer Torkelson selected 1st overall in MLB Draft by Detroit Tigers

by Andrew Crane, 06-10-2020

Spencer Torkelson selected 1st overall in MLB Draft by Detroit Tigers

Spencer Torkelson thrust his bat into the ground, knocking off the donut in the on-deck circle, and strolled to the plate after Tyler Doanes’ single. It was midway through the third inning of a Cape Cod Baseball League doubleheader on June 23, and Chatham had already established a five-run lead over Bourne. For Torkelson, it was his third of five games with the Anglers last summer, in between a run to the NCAA regionals with Arizona State and an invitation to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. 

When Bourne’s Sean Harney delivered a 2-1 pitch, following up two pitches in the dirt with one high in the zone, Torkelson lifted the ball toward the right field fence. “I felt like I popped it up,” he said after the game. But it carried, and carried, and carried, and eventually his first home run of the 2019 Cape League season landed on the other side of the Veterans Field fence. Hours later, he sat on a fastball with less than two strikes and hit another.

“The arms that I faced day in and day out on the Cape made me a better hitter with a more solid approach,” Torkelson said after he was named a preseason All-American in Jan. 2019. “It’s really cool getting that kind of recognition for my hard work.”

For the last two summers, Torkelson was one of the power bats in Chatham’s lineup — the undrafted high schooler turned collegiate star who hit .343 with 10 home runs in 2018 and led Chatham to its first CCBL championship appearance since 2001. He was the infielder who launched 23 home runs as a sophomore with the Sun Devils in 2019, and hit six more during a shortened 2020 season. And on Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers selected the Sun Devils’ junior with the first overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft — the first Angler to go first overall since Matt Anderson in 1997.

“You get tagged in things on social media and you say, 'Oh, that's cool but it's just social media,'" Torkelson said on ESPN's broadcast. "But to hear the commisioner just say my name, it's a moment that I'll never forget."

During his time at Casa Grande (California) High School, Torkelson hit .430 in 110 games and earned a scholarship to ASU. There, he became the seventh freshman All-American in program history with the Sun Devils, and finished first in the NCAA with 25 home runs. On March 29, 2018, Torkelson drove a 2-1 pitch from a Washington State pitcher over the center field fence — breaking Barry Bonds’ school record for most home runs by a freshman.

That summer, he brought that same power-hitting to Chatham. His first Cape League homer came on June 14 against Brewster, and over the next 28 games — through three and four RBI games, through the 5-for-29 slump to end the season, through each of the 27 hits — Torkelson paced Chatham’s middle of the order. In game one of the EDCS, Torkelson hit two homers as the Anglers defeated Brewster en route to their CCBL championship appearance. 

Despite only five games with Chatham the next summer, he still registered a hit in every game — and knocked in nine runs. Two RBI against Brewster. Then, two against Yarmouth-Dennis and Bourne. Two homers in that June 23 doubleheader against the Braves. Those games followed a 2019 collegiate season where Torkelson hit 23 home runs and finished first in the Pacific-12 Conference — and fifth in the country. 

Through 17 games in 2020, Torkelson’s final at ASU, he led the Sun Devils with six home runs and was sixth with 17 hits.

“The conversations with scouts about Tork have all been like, ‘Is this guy for real? Is he the real deal?’ The answer is simple,” Chatham manager Tom Holliday told ASUDevils.com in 2019. “I think I’ve had in my coaching career somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 first-rounders. As long as he doesn’t get hurt, he’s a first-rounder.”

And with the Tigers — a team where general manager Al Avila’s scouts “strongly feel” that Torkelson will play third base, Avila said on ESPN’s broadcast — that’s what he became.