Who should be No. 1 Draft pick? Execs say ...

May 5th, 2020

Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt center fielder/third baseman Austin Martin entered the year as prime candidates to go No. 1 overall in the Draft to the Tigers and haven't done anything to jeopardize that status. Not only do they rank 1-2 (Torkelson ahead of Martin) on MLB Pipeline's Draft Top 150, but the scouting consensus is that Torkelson is the best power hitter and Martin is the best pure hitter available.

Torkelson not only produces at least double-plus raw power with his combination of bat speed, strength and loft in his right-handed swing, but he also has the bat control and patience to make the most of it. He erased Barry Bonds' Arizona State freshman record with 25 homers in 2018, topped the Pac-12 Conference for the second straight year with 23 in 2019 and smacked six more in 17 games this spring to fall just two homers shy of surpassing Bob Horner's Sun Devils career mark of 56.

Martin's quick, compact right-handed stroke and outstanding hand-eye coordination allow him to make line-drive contact seemingly at will. He led the Southeastern Conference in hitting (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) while helping Vanderbilt win the College World Series in 2019, and he posted similar numbers with increased power this spring.

The last time the Draft's top slugger and top hitter battled for the No. 1 pick was in 2003, when the Devil Rays selected Delmon Young's power over Rickie Weeks' hitting ability. Who should prevail this time around? And does anyone else deserve consideration for the top selection?

We posed those questions to four dozen scouting executives and received 35 responses from 23 different teams.

Who's the better prospect?

Torkelson has batted .337/.463/.729 with 87 extra-base hits, 110 walks and 104 strikeouts in two-plus college seasons, while Martin has hit .368/.474/.532 with 57 extra-base knocks, 85 free passes and 82 whiffs, not to mention 43 steals. They're different types of players, with most of Torkelson's value coming from his bat and Martin providing a broader array of tools but none as striking as Torkelson's power.

Though Torkelson likely will remain at first base, many scouts believe he could handle left field. Martin is clearly the superior athlete but his defensive home remains in question. Teams hoped to see him at shortstop this spring, but he opened the season at third base before moving to center field, and most evaluators think he'll wind up in center or at second base.

The Tigers still have six weeks to make up their minds, but most clubs believe they're zeroing in on Torkelson. Most of our respondents believe that's what exactly they should do, with 29 preferring him to Martin, five liking Martin over Torkelson and one saying it was too close to call.

Torkelson's proponents say his bat is just too special to pass up. A sampling of their opinions:

National League scouting director: "Torkelson is as Major League-ready as any player I've ever seen in my entire life with his bat. If you want to take him and put him in the Major Leagues right away like Bob Horner, you could. Everything he does in the batter's box is elite: his ability to take pitches, to walk, to hit for power, to hit for average. It's like watching a Major League player in college. He's as good a hitter as I've ever seen. Torkelson is like watching a No. 4 hitter on a Major League team in college." [Editor's note: Horner went No. 1 overall in 1978 and immediately won the NL Rookie of the Year award after homering 23 times in 89 games with the Braves.]

American League executive: "It's a tough call, basically comes down to Frank Thomas or Mookie Betts. Torkelson is the Tyrannosaurus rex version of college power hitters in the last decade, while Martin is a WAR monster with multidimensional abilities. I normally prefer the all-around player, although for this exercise, I’m leaning toward the Big Tork!"

NL scouting director: "I don't think it's close. It's Torkelson. Torkelson is one of the more prolific power hitters and hitters I've seen in a long time. I get he's a first baseman, but he's athletic for the position and his general athleticism speaks for what he can do. There's nothing wrong with his swing, his analytics are great, he checks every single box. When you combine that bat with that power, you get an elite offensive performer. He's a bigger, stronger, more athletic version of [last year's No. 3 overall pick] Andrew Vaughn."

AL crosschecker: "Spencer Torkelson is the better prospect for me. It's a unique conversation because both of these guys are completely different players but I feel Torkelson has the most overall future value with his middle-of-the-order potential and, from a scouting side, a chance at 70 hit/70 power or even better [on the 20-80 scale]. Torkelson's athleticism gets discredited some for the situation he's in at Arizona State with an infield of four players who may get drafted high next month. If he was playing at a different school, he'd likely get more of an opportunity to show his versatility. He gets compared a lot to Andrew Vaughn, but for me there is much more defensive versatility with Torkelson's flexibility for his size and arm strength."

AL scouting director: "While I understand Martin offers up more positional value, I'd have a hard time passing on Torkelson's bat. First and foremost, he has a natural feel to hit, and then there just happens to be plus-plus raw power attached. It's an advanced approach. We have seen him take two-strike sliders off the dish and deposit them into the right-field seats. Martin would likely go 1-1 in quite a few of our recent Drafts, but he's up against a monster this year."

NL scouting director: "Torkelson would be 1, Martin would be 2. They're both very good players but Torkelson, man, it's big power with good hitting ability. He doesn't swing and miss much, he walks, he's the total package. It's a different bat. I don't see a bat close to his in the last few Drafts. Kris Bryant is probably the closest, but Torkelson has similar power with a shorter swing and less swing and miss. Martin doesn't have that same power or exit velocity. He's a good player, a center fielder who can run and do it all. I just think Torkelson is going to be an aircraft carrier, 'get on my back,' hitting .300-plus with 30 homers and an insane OPS."

AL scouting director: "I’m a big Torkelson fan. I think he is a sure-thing Major League 2-4 hole hitter who will hit for OPS and power. His swing generates so much easy strength with a ridiculous amount of hard contact, and his excellent plate discipline is going to allow him to walk and hit home runs. His power is the type that allows him to produce home runs even when he doesn’t square it up. He has confidence and owns the batter's box -- the mentality of the great Major League hitters."

The case for Martin

While they were in the clear minority, Martin's backers pointed to his pure hitting ability, more all-around game and defensive versatility. Several of the executives who opted for Torkelson still lavished praise on Martin, with an AL scouting director saying that Martin would have the higher ceiling if he proves he can handle center field and an AL crosschecker opining that Martin has a chance to be an 80 hitter.

Here's what Martin's advocates had to say:

AL executive: "Martin, by a smidge, due to the positional versatility and superior contact ability. They’re both exceptional talents -- two of the better position players in the Draft in years. It’s a shame we won’t get to see the performance lines they would’ve put up this year. Torkelson will likely be the better hitter but Martin will have more overall value. In fact, Martin is among the most well-rounded college position players of the last decade."

NL crosschecker: "Martin is the better prospect. The only tool Torkelson has better is raw power and probably power production. Martin does have good usable power though. The hit tools are close to even but I would give Martin the edge. Athletically, they're not in the same hemisphere. Martin throws, runs and fields better than Torkelson. Martin is more versatile positionally. I saw him in center field this spring and he has a chance there."

Who else should be in the mix?

When we asked if there were any other prospects who belonged in the No. 1 overall pick discussion along with Torkelson and Martin, 26 of the 35 executives said they wouldn't consider anyone else. But one name kept coming up for those who would: Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy.

No. 3 on MLB Pipeline's Draft Top 150, Lacy features three pitches that grade as at least plus in his fastball, slider and changeup, and his curveball isn't far behind. He ranked third in NCAA Division I in opponent average (.162) and strikeout rate (13.2 per nine innings) as a sophomore in 2019 and improved those numbers to .111 and 17.3 in four starts this spring.

Five respondents said Lacy would be part of their mix if they had the top choice. Two more said they wouldn't take him over Torkelson but preferred him to Martin. Another said Lacy and Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock could factor into No. 1 talk for a club that believes you win with pitching.

"I could take Asa Lacy," a NL executive said. "He’s the full package, left-handed, pluses across the board and performance in the SEC. He ranks up there with any left-hander in recent years. I would still take the bat but Lacy would be in the discussion."

An AL scouting director noted that he'd consider one of the high school players with the first selection, though he didn't want to tip his hand by saying which one. Spruce Creek High (Port Orange, Fla.) outfielder Zac Veen is MLB Pipeline's highest-rated prepster at No. 7 on the Top 150.

But one NL scouting director summed up the thinking of most of the executives who weighed in: "If I'm Detroit, I'm not worrying about the No. 1 pick. I'm thinking about my next pick because I'm taking Torkelson."