MLB Draft 2020: Spencer Torkelson’s Arizona State hitting coach explains why he’s the likely No. 1 pick


Major League Baseball is scheduled to launch its 2020 draft on June 10. This year’s edition will look different than years past. The spread of the novel coronavirus means the event will be held remotely. The owners’ desire to slash costs, meanwhile, means the draft will last just five rounds instead of 40.

Here at CBS Sports, we recently kicked off this year’s draft coverage recently by ranking the top 25 position players, the top 25 pitchers, and the top 50 overall prospects in this year’s class. We’ve also covered the most polarizing prospects in the class, and explained why someone from this year’s class might make their professional debut in the Show.

Over the last week-plus, we’ve been running Q&As with the pitching or hitting coach for each of the top five players in this year’s class, according to our evaluation. That continues today with Arizona State University hitting coach Michael Earley, who has worked closely with Spencer Torkelson.

Earley explained what makes Torkelson’s swing work so well, and how his mental skills put him above everyone else. Before we get to the Q&A, here’s what we wrote about Torkelson when we ranked him as the second-best prospect in the draft:

You’d think Torkelson was a Joe Hill creation given the fear he invokes in opposing pitchers. He walked in 31 of his 82 plate appearances during the abbreviated NCAA season, but he still managed to improve his career homer count to 54 in 498 at-bats. Torkelson has the requisite eye, strength, and barrel control to profile as a quick-moving thumper. The biggest knock on him is that he’s only a right-handed first baseman, and those seldom make for satisfying early selections — it’s basically a sample of the ballad of Andrew Vaughn, the third pick in last year’s draft. Don’t be surprised when Torkelson ends up going higher than Vaughn, perhaps even first.

Now, onto Earley’s answers.


(Note: the interview has been edited for clarity and length purposes.)

What kind of human being is he?

He’s an unbelievable human being. Top-notch kid, top-notch character. Great family. His parents are great people. They’ve raised him the right way. He’s the total package in that regard. He’s really fun to be around; enjoyable; respectable; just a class act.

How has he grown since you first met him?

He hasn’t changed much. The fame, I guess you’d call it, hasn’t changed him. The only thing that’s changed is he’s had to deal with it. So, he’s had to deal with the pressure and the accolades. How he’s dealt with it is that he hasn’t changed. He’s routine-orientated as a hitter, he’s routine-orientated as a person. It’s been impressive to see him just stick to his morals and stick to being himself throughout this. It’s probably been just as impressive as his performance.

What’s your scouting report on him?

Total package. There are some players out there who have the same amount of power as him; there are some players out there who have the same amount of bat speed. What you can’t see is the brain. He is the smartest hitter I’ve ever been around. His ability and his aptitude to make adjustments on the fly is unbelievable. 

When you add the physical tools he obviously has with the mental skills, that’s why he will probably be the No. 1 pick because … it’s crazy, man, he can fix stuff so quickly, you almost forget that it’s not normal. Other guys, it might take a while; for him, it’s like bam. He can just do it, and it’s unbelievable. 

The other aspect of that — you have the physical, you have the mental — and then he’s so competitive. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around in my life. And not just because the Jordan documentary was on and all of that, but he has that kind of competitive drive. The same that you saw with Jordan, he has that same will to win and will to be the best. 

Can you think of a specific time he made a necessary adjustment?

We were playing Michigan State, not this year but last year, and they had a pretty good lefty on the mound, and he struck him out. He struck him out in, I believe, the ninth. We come back around in the 11th and Spencer comes back up. The guy sequences him the same way: same count, same everything, same breaking ball, but he hits it out of the park. 

Usually in college baseball, if you get a guy out on something you just keep doing it. You keep doing it over and over and over again. But with him, if you get him once you better come up with another way to get him because the next time it’s not going to work. He has that ability to make those adjustments, use his brain, and you’re never going to get him twice. You might see him swing at a slider in the dirt … throw it again and he’s not swinging at it. 

That one really stuck out, but that’s happened a lot. Whenever guys get him out, I mean, yeah, you should try to do it the same way, but it never works. You try the same thing twice, you’re going to be in trouble.

What have you worked with him the most over the last six months?

Our biggest thing is his body control when he hits. Having his body in the right position and really not trying to do too much. 

The thing that clicked for him early on is — I saw the raw power, so I took him out to the field, and we just did front toss on the field. I said, ‘hey, this is going to sound crazy, but I want you to see how easily you can hit the ball over the fence, meaning controlling your body, not muscling up.’ And for some reason that clicked with him, and it allowed him to have more plate discipline, where he felt he had more time, he felt like he didn’t need to do too much to generate power, which allowed him to see pitches better. 

He has like three or four mechanical cues that we always stick to, and then every Thursday before a series we’re out there on the field and we just do the front-toss drill. And it’s the most impressive thing. He’ll get on a roll and I’ve seen him maybe hit 12, 13, 14 home runs in a row off of front toss on the field and he’s literally just taking the easiest swings ever.

Reminiscent of what Barry Bonds used to say about trying to just catch the ball with his bat.

That’s something he and I have in common: Barry’s both our favorite player. I’ve seen every Barry Bonds video there is, so I’ve seen the one you’re talking about. That’s a video I know Spence has seen, and I’ve seen. He has the same really simple velocity that Barry had. That’s him in a nutshell. I always tell him, all you have to do is touch the ball and it’s gone. You don’t have to do anything else, just touch it.

What is it about his swing that allows him that power?

It’s strength and bat speed, and it’s the ability to take a near-perfect swing more than everyone else. He doesn’t have a lot of flaws in his swing, and the flaws he has don’t show up a lot. When those flaws do show up, he fixes them. It’s a pretty simple stroke but it’s a lot of bat speed and a lot of torque — no pun intended — and strength. 

What is his prep like?

He’s super routine- and preparation-orientated. He’s in my office every week. He’ll literally say, ‘can I have your computer?’ and he’ll sit down and watch every single at-bat he had that year. 

I remember a point last year, where he didn’t have that many home runs. He was like, ‘pull up every home run I’ve ever hit.’ So we’d sit there before the game and watch 25 home runs being hit. And he’s like, ‘yeah, I need to do that, I need to do that.’ He’s just able to see it and then put it in motion.

As far as studying the other pitchers, he does it more than anyone. He’ll come watch them in my office before the whole team sees the guy we’re going to see, he’ll watch it with the team, and then sometimes he’ll watch it again. It’s not him trying to do too much, he’s just looking for little things. For him, it helps him put it all together. His brain just works differently than other people. He can put that stuff in pockets of the brain that other people don’t have, and then it’s going to be his fourth at-bat and he’s going to remember something and bam, he’s going to capitalize on it.

It sounds like he’s already a big-league hitter, frankly.

In my opinion he is. I think he’d have no problem if you dropped him in there right now. I hate to put that kind of pressure on him, he has enough pressure on him. But I’ve seen it. I was fortunate enough to play in the minor leagues against some really, really good players — guys who are big-league All-Stars now — and I put this kid up there with him, and I would take him over anyone, all day. I think he’s that special.





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