MLB Draft 2020 takeaways: Spencer Torkelson goes No. 1 with a twist; record run on college players

The 2020 MLB Draft -- officially known as the First-Year Player Draft or the Rule 4 Draft -- finished up Thursday night. The selection process spanned just five rounds this year and featured 160 picks. MLB shortened the draft from the usual 40 rounds down to only five rounds as a cost-cutting move amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Detroit Tigers won only 47 games last season and, as a result, they held the top overall pick for the second time in three years. The Tigers used that No. 1 selection on Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson. Vanderbilt's Austin Martin was ranked as the top player in the class, but he slipped to the Blue Jays at No. 5. You can find the full list of every 2020 pick here.

Here are six takeaways from the 2020 MLB Draft.

1. Torkelson drafted as a third baseman

As expected, the Tigers selected Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Torkelson hit .337/.463/.729 with 54 home runs in 129 games as a Sun Devil, and he broke Barry Bonds' freshman record with 25 home runs in 2018. Detroit added the best all-around offensive talent in the draft to their pitching-rich farm system.

What was not expected, however, was the Tigers taking Torkelson as a third baseman. He dabbled in the outfield in college, but was mostly a first baseman. Third base will be a new position for him. It's easy to go back to first base. The Tigers will try Torkelson at third and make him show he can't play the position before sticking him at first. Remember, the Tigers put Miguel Cabrera at third base to make room for Prince Fielder. If you can hit, the Tigers have shown they'll live with a below-average glove at the hot corner.

"You give me a bat and a glove, and I just want to win," Torkelson said during the MLB Network broadcast. "That's it."

2. The O's cut a below-slot deal

When he ran drafts for the Astros, Orioles GM Mike Elias often manipulated the team's bonus pool to secure two top talents. In English, that means Elias would cut a below-slot deal with his top pick and use the savings on a top talent that fell to a later pick. He did it with Carlos Correa (No. 1 pick) and Lance McCullers Jr. (No. 41 pick) in 2012, most notably.

Elias appears to have done that again in 2020. The O's selected Arkansas slugger Heston Kjerstad, the No. 17 prospect in the draft class, with the No. 2 pick in the draft. They then used the No. 30 pick on Mississippi State infielder Jordan Westburg, an analytics darling thanks to big exit velocities. The Orioles hold the No. 39 pick (the second pick Thursday) and are poised to redirect the savings from the Kjerstad pick to a top talent there.

3. The Blue Jays got the best player in the draft

With the No. 5 pick, no less. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Vanderbilt super utility player Austin Martin as the best player in the draft class, but he was passed over with the top four picks, and the Blue Jays weren't going to let him slip any further. Toronto's great young position player core (Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., etc.) got that much better. They have some things to figure out on the mound, no doubt, but the Blue Jays have the making of a championship-caliber lineup. They have to be over the moon Martin fell to them.

4. There was a record run on college players

For the first time in history, seven college players were selected with the first seven picks of the draft. The previous record was five college players to begin the draft, done twice: 1992 (Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds, Chad Mottola) and 2018 (Casey Mize, Joey Bart, Alec Bohm, Nick Madrigal, Jonathan India). 

Look where this year's top seven picks were drafted out of high school three years ago:

  1. Spencer Torkelson, Tigers: Undrafted
  2. Heston Kjerstad, Orioles: 36th round 
  3. Max Meyer, Marlins: 34th round 
  4. Asa Lacy, Royals: 38th round 
  5. Austin Martin, Blue Jays: 31st round 
  6. Emerson Hancock, Mariners: 38th round
  7. Nick Gonzales, Pirates: Undrafted 

Props to those seven kids for turning themselves into high draft picks after being afterthoughts in high school. The entire 2020 draft class was very college heavy, so much so that a record low number of high schoolers were selected with the top 100 picks:

This draft class was deep in college talent to start with, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced amateur baseball to shut down this spring, so teams didn't get many looks at the top high schoolers. That pushed them to college players, whom they had years of scouting and statistical information to fall back on.

5. The Cubs took a hometown player

The draft class is short on quality middle infielders and Ed Howard might have been the best true shortstop available this year. The Cubs selected Howard, a Chicago high schooler (Mount Carmel HS) and the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year, with the No. 16 pick. It was a true hometown pick. Howard is the first Illinois high school position player selected in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997. He has been described as a solid all-around ballplayer rather than a guy with one real loud, standout tool.

6. The Red Sox made a surprise pick

Hands down, the biggest surprise of the first round was the Red Sox taking California high school infielder Nick Yorke with the No. 17 pick. Baseball America ranked Yorke as the 96th-best prospect in the draft ranked him 139th. Not a first-round ranking, certainly. 

The Red Sox forfeited their second round pick as punishment for the sign-stealing scandal and there was speculation they were punting their first-round pick to save money (Yorke is committed to Arizona). The team shot that down immediately.

This is simply a case of a team liking a player more than the public rankings. "This was an unusual spring ... We love this kid's bat. We think he has a chance to be a special bat. We feel if the spring had gotten a chance to play out the public perception of him would be a lot different," chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said on a conference call following the pick.

Below is our live blog and analysis from the two-day draft. 

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