Major League Baseball's annual amateur draft begins this Wednesday, June 10. MLB cut this year's draft from its usual 40 rounds down to only five rounds as a cost-cutting move amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Each team will save roughly $3.4 million in bonus money with the shorter draft.
Unlike last year, when Oregon State catcher and current Orioles prospect Adley Rutschman stood out as a clear No. 1 prospect in the draft class, this year's draft does not have a clear-cut top prospect. There are several elite prospects available but no generational type talent a la Rutschman or Bryce Harper.
. Here's what each player has done in their college careers:
Martin and Torkelson were both elite performers at the college level, with Torkelson showing way more power and Martin providing more impact on the bases and in the field. These are two very good prospects who go about it in different ways.
The Tigers hold the No. 1 selection in this year's draft and, barring a surprise off-the-board selection, they figure to take either Martin or Torkelson. Do they want to build around the slugging first baseman or the all-around athlete? There's a case to be make for both players, and we're here to make them. Here are the cases for making Martin and Torkelson the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft.
The case for Martin
My case for Martin is straightforward: I believe he's the best player in the draft.
At the plate, Martin combines a good feel for the barrel with command over the strike zone. He seldom swings at bad pitches, and he was the toughest power-conference hitter to strike out during the abbreviated season. He isn't swinging a wet newspaper up there, either. His exit velocities suggest there's above-average power potential to be uncovered. If you look around the majors, the type of player who is adding pop most frequently is the one with premium bat-to-ball and pitch-recognition skills. Martin would seem to fit in that class.
In the field, Martin is expected to end up as a primary center fielder. A clever team could (and probably should) leverage his experience on the infield by giving him a start or two per week at second or third base. Catch-all metrics like Wins Above Replacement still don't properly convey the value of a player who can competently stand in at multiple positions, so don't make the same mistake and underrate the niftiness of Martin's versatility.
When you add those components of Martin's game together, along with his instinctual and above-average baserunning, you get an up-the-middle player who can contribute across the board. That's a heck of a player.
There's always going to be an argument about whether you should take the hitter with the broader or deeper tool allotment. To some extent, that's the debate here, right? Torkelson might become a 70-hit, 70-power middle-of-the-order force, as his bat is absolutely carrying-tool quality. I don't think Martin is as easy to compartmentalize, however, because it's possible he ends up a well-above-average hitter and defender as well.
I keep thinking I'm missing something, and that there's an obvious reason that Torkelson has been tied to the No. 1 selection all along while Martin isn't even a sure thing to go No. 2. But almost everyone in the game I've talked to feels similarly. They're both probably going to be good players. I just think Martin is going to be more valuable. -- R.J. Anderson
The case for Torkelson
History is not on Torkelson's side. He is a righty hitting and righty throwing first baseman, and only two right-right first baseman have gone in the top five picks: Dave McCarty (No. 3 in 1991) and Andrew Vaughn (No. 3 in 2019). Since MLB first expanded in 1961, only 26 right-right players amassed even 10 WAR while playing 75 percent of their games at first base or DH. It's a risky profile.
That history is starting to change though. The top five players on that leaderboard (and 10 of the top 15) all played in the 2000s, and it shouldn't be long before Pete Alonso joins the 10-WAR club as well. Right-right first basemen are having more impact now than ever before, and the fact Vaughn went No. 3 last year is an indication teams aren't scared away by the profile.
As for Torkelson himself, he possesses all the offensive skills necessary to be a devastating middle-of-the-order hitter. He has bat speed and strength, a discernible eye, and the aptitude to make adjustments pitch-to-pitch. Torkelson is a career .340/.484/.745 hitter in the Cape Cod League, a prestigious summer league featuring wood bats and the best college players in the country.
Beyond the stat line and the eye test, Torkelson also stands out because he combines elite exit velocities -- he hit a ball 111 mph this spring (less than one percent of MLB batted balls are hit that hard) -- with launch angles that turn the exit velocity into homers (rather than, say, hard-hit grounders). His power is immense and usable in games. He's not simply a batting practice superstar.
Also, it should be noted Torkelson is not a zero defensively. He's athletic enough that he's played some left field, though pretty much everyone agrees first base is his long-term home. Torkelson has good hands and is adept at scooping throws in the dirt. He is a bat-first player, there's no doubt about that, but it would be wrong to call him a bat-only player. He's not a negative in the field.
Torkelson's two greatest strengths, power and plate discipline, are two traits that tend to age well. They're old player skills, and I say that because if you have them, you'll keep playing until you're old. Martin is talented, for sure, but a lot of his value is tied up in his legs, and speed peaks early. His production will begin to slip as soon as he loses a step. That won't be the case with Torkelson.
As a right-right first baseman, the easy MLB comparison for Torkelson is Paul Goldschmidt. Offensively, I think it's Aaron Judge. Judge strikes out a bunch, but he also hits the ball so dang hard that his power always plays, and he posts high batting averages on the balls he does put in play. Judge leads baseball in average exit velocity (95.1 mph) and BABIP (.361) the last three seasons.
That's the type of hitter I see Torkelson becoming. Ton of power, high batting average on balls in play, lots of walks. It's also unlikely Torkelson will strike out as much as Judge seeing how he's not 6-foot-7 with crazy long arms (he's 6-foot-2). Simply put, Torkelson has special offensive upside, enough to overlook his limitations in the field and on the bases. -- Mike Axisa