Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
The Tigers went into the Draft knowing they were going to add an offensive centerpiece in Spencer Torkelson. And they left it with even more firepower.
Detroit selected hitters with all six of its picks, the first five from the collegiate ranks. That wasn’t necessarily the plan beyond the first selection -- Torkelson was the definition of a no-brainer No. 1 overall pick -- but rather a product of the way things fell. The Tigers were delighted to stock up on offense in general, but particularly in such a quality fashion. Of their six new prospects, five were ranked in the Top 100 going into the Draft.
“I think the way it rolled out, the hitters that we liked got to us,” Tigers scouting director Scott Pleis told MLB.com. “Sometimes you just have to be a little lucky. And they’re good hitters. With analytics and scouting and everything merging together, we try to narrow the focus on better hitters.”
First Round: Spencer Torkelson (No. 1 overall)
Torkelson is one of the best offensive prospects to emerge from the amateur ranks in recent memory. As a freshman at Arizona State in 2018, he shattered Barry Bonds’ record for most homers by a freshman by cranking 25 big flies, dwarfing the home run king’s total of 11. He maintained that pace as a sophomore with 23 taters, and had logged six this spring before the season was canceled.
He will instantly shoot to the top of Detroit’s system, competing with MLB.com’s No. 7 overall prospect and 2018’s top overall pick Casey Mize for the mantle of best youngster in the organization.
“Spencer is exactly the type of player we hoped would be there for us with the top pick in this year’s Draft,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said in a statement after the pick. “He’s one of the most polished hitters we’ve seen in the Draft for quite some time, showing plus-plus power and excellent plate discipline. We’ve been tracking Spencer’s growth and performance since his breakout freshman season at Arizona State, and are excited to see him grow in the coming years.”
The pick came as no surprise, but one part of it did -- Torkelson was almost exclusively a first baseman during his three years with the Sun Devils, yet commissioner Rob Manfred referred to him as a third baseman. That was no mistake; the Tigers intend on starting Torkelson at the hot corner, and they believe his supreme athleticism and feel for the game could allow for him to take the transition with ease.
“I keep going back to the athleticism,” special assistant to the general manager Alan Trammell told MLB.com. “We wanted to watch him take ground balls, which we did. And his arm strength, throwing across the diamond, it's just not normal, it's better than average arm strength [along with] his footwork. This is not a normal guy, and that's why we feel we can try him over at third. He is a strong young man and he's athletic and he has a good strong arm. When you add all that together, we've got a special guy, no question about it.”
Torkelson officially signed with the Tigers on Tuesday for a record-breaking $8,416,300, which is $1,000 over slot value.
Second Round: Dillon Dingler (No. 38 overall)
Sometimes elite athletes are just that. That’s definitely the case with Dingler. At Jackson High in Stark County, Ohio, he helped lead his school's baseball and basketball teams to state championships as a senior, and he was named the county’s Football Player of the Year the previous fall as well.
On the diamond, he’ll bring to the Detroit system a solid bat and an exceptional glove. MLB.com profiles him to provide both good contact and power at the dish, and to possess above average fielding and plus throwing from behind the plate. The Tigers already have No. 10 Jake Rogers at Triple-A Toledo, but Dingler’s exceptional defense and athleticism should establish his ceiling higher than the organization’s incumbent top backstop.
“When you see an athlete on the field, it's usually a good thing,” Pleis told MLB.com. “In his case, an athlete behind the plate is huge. We talk about shortstops, center fielders being great athletes, which they are. Your feet and your hands have to be tremendous to be a good catcher.”
Competitive Round B: Daniel Cabrera (No. 62 overall)
Cabrera was rated as the No. 38 overall prospect going into the Draft, making him the first of a few huge steals by Detroit. His stock may have soared even higher if not for the coronavirus, as he was a preseason All-American batting .345 with two homers and 12 RBIs through 17 games before the collegiate season was canceled.
His fine-tuned bat is anchored around a smooth southpaw swing, and Cabrera profiles to be solid at the next level with a bit of a contact lean in the pros. He’s polished defensively too, possessing a good arm and solid glove with experience at both corner outfield positions.
“We have a lot of history with his bat, and it’s a quality bat,” Pleis told MLB.com. “He’s going to be an everyday left fielder, a power bat, uses the field. He’s not a runner, but he runs good enough, but a really quality player with a history of hitting. He’s going to be a good player.”
Third Round: Trei Cruz (No. 73 overall)
Cruz has baseball in his genes. His father, Jose Cruz Jr., was a Gold Glove outfielder who played 12 seasons in the Majors. His grandfather, Jose Cruz Sr., lasted 19 seasons and was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger twice. If he makes it to The Show, Cruz would be the first third-generation player in franchise history and the sixth three-generation baseball family in the Majors.
Trei has a good chance of turning that into a reality, as he profiles to be a solid hitting prospect who can bat from both sides of the plate. He was primarily a shortstop at Rice University, but will likely see time across the infield in a system that already has four shortstops among its top 30 prospects.
“I think he still has some upside,” Pleis told MLB.com. “He’s a switch-hitter. He’s not a power guy, but he’s got some power. Good athlete, very versatile. His bat has evolved the last few years and keeps getting better. We really feel like we’ve got a really good baseball player here.”
Fourth Round: Gage Workman (No. 102 overall)
After taking an Arizona State product they want to convert to third base in the first round, the Tigers selected a Sun Devil who actually has experience at the position in the fourth. Workman and Torkelson formed one of the most fearsome offensive duos in college baseball over the past three years, and if everything goes Detroit’s way, they’ll be doing the same in Comerica Park before long.
Like Torkelson, Workman brings tremendous power to the Tigers' ranks, something the pitching-heavy system could certainly use. He also projects to be a strong defender, although whether that will be long-term at third base remains to be seen with Torkelson lingering ahead of him. That excites Detroit brass, but so does his potential -- because he graduated high school early, Workman is just 20 years old.
“He's a young guy first,” Pleis told MLB.com, “and he's got a huge upside, huge power, switch-hitter, a good athlete, can run, can throw, really does a really good job at third base. And I think he's growing into being a good hitter. He does strike out a little bit too much at times, but I think there's a huge upside with him, and the power potential is tremendous.”
Fifth Round: Colt Keith (No. 132 overall)
Keith was the Tigers’ last pick, but he might’ve been their biggest steal. The two-way prospect entered the Draft ranked 87th, but dropped all the way to No. 132, landing in Detroit’s lap as its only high-schooler this year. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi as a senior, and was committed to -- get this -- Arizona State before signing with the club not long after the Draft.
Offensively, Keith displays good contact and some raw power. He was selected as a third baseman, but his strong arm and solid glove could allow him to play elsewhere in the infield. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll pitch at the next level, but he has decent control of three nice pitches. Even if he doesn’t see the mound, Detroit is excited to add him based on his potential on the offensive end.
“We got a high-ceiling third baseman that we’re excited to get, a left-handed hitter,” Pleis told MLB.com.
By taking hitters with all of their picks, the Tigers injected a much-needed infusion of offensive talent into their system. They ranked No. 2 in MiLB.com’s Farm System Rankings of pitching staffs going into 2020, but came in at just No. 22 when it came to position players. Torkelson is a true headline talent that, along with Mize, will pilot the next generation of Detroit players through the ranks. The team has got a ways to go to finally escape the American League cellar, but with those two leading the charge, the Tigers' faithful can rest assured help is on the way.
Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byjordanwolf.