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Spencer Torkelson vs. Casey Mize: Who Should Be The Tigers No. 1 Prospect?



One of the biggest questions asked around this time of year, once the first round of the draft is in the books is: Where does my team’s first-rounder rank among the organization’s Top 30 Prospects?

Sometimes, the answer is simple. Adley Rutschman, for example, was a slam-dunk to slide into the top spot in Baltimore’s system.

Other times, however, the choice is very difficult. By choosing Spencer Torkelson as expected with the No. 1 pick this year, the Tigers have set up a delicious duel for the top spot in their system. The incumbent is righthander Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick who had a Jekyll and Hyde of a first full season as a pro.

In the early going, Mize blitzed through high Class A and made his Double-A debut by throwing a no-hitter on less than 100 pitches. A few weeks later, however, his shoulder started barking and he hit the injured list. When he returned, his stuff was not the same and he got hit hard. Eventually, the Tigers made the decision to shut him down for the rest of the season. Even so, his stuff and the results he produced when healthy were strong enough for Baseball America to rank him No. 13 on the most recent iteration of the Top 100 Prospects.

On the other side, there’s Torkelson, who, once he signs, has the pedigree and track record to jump on an express train to Detroit. He already stands out as the best position player in a system dominated by high-end arms like Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo. But, as we learn every year, pitching prospects are much more volatile than hitters, and Torkelson appears to offer a combination of impact potential, proximity and polish rarely found at the top of drafts.

Our staff debates who they'd choose below. 

Carlos Collazo: This was an agonizingly close decision for me, and I’m still fairly torn. Initially my thought was that Mize would get the slight edge. His pro debut was exceptional and during his draft year he was the more clear-cut No. 1 player in the class with more separation between him and the second-best player than Torkelson and No. 2 prospect Austin Martin. Still, not all draft classes are created equal. While I still believe Mize has legitimate front-of-the-rotation stuff, his injury questions and the increased risk of pitchers in general lead me, inevitably, to choose Torkelson. I will admit to a bias against corner-only players who have more pressure on their bat and less defensive value, but there’s a reason Torkelson is about to become the first college first baseman to go No. 1 overall. The bat is the most important tool in baseball and Torkelson is an exceptional offensive player. I’ll just stop overthinking this one and get excited to see him hit balls to the moon in major leagues in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Eddy: Torkelson has that rare combination of hitting ability, power, discipline and major league proximity that puts him in the same class as recent impact college bats like Anthony Rendon and Mark Teixeira. Those two required just 300-odd minor league plate appearances before they were ready for the major leagues. Torkelson should make a similarly quick ascent—whenever the minor leagues resume play. As a first baseman, Torkelson may not offer much position value, but his lineup position value will be substantial.

Josh Norris: I’m on Team Torkelson as well, and it’s not really close. Torkelson has shown an ability to hit for both average and power in college at Arizona State and during his two turns with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He was on a tear to start this season, as well, before it was shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. Though he is untested in pro ball, there are a lot fewer red flags than there are with Mize. Even before the draft, some scouting departments were concerned about Mize’s injury history and a delivery that might lead to more injuries down the road. That came true in 2019, when we saw an otherworldly start to the season derailed by a case of shoulder fatigue. When he returned, Mize wasn’t the same, and the Tigers shut him down for the rest of the season. Frankly, I’d have Matt Manning above Mize if I were ranking the system myself, so putting Torkelson as the No. 1 prospect would be an easy call for me.

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Chris Hilburn-Trenkle: This is certainly a tough debate and one any team would love to have, but I am leaning slightly toward Mize because of his ceiling. Torkelson has the higher floor as a player who can hit .290 with 30 home runs, but I was encouraged by Mize’s ability to dominate Double-A hitters in 2019. With three plus pitches and plus control, Mize has the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation starter, and I will take my chances with him very slightly over Torkelson. Of course, my argument depends on Mize’s ability to return to form after shoulder fatigue caused him to be shut down during the 2019 season.

JJ Cooper: For me, when it’s close, I go with the bat. It’s close (and Matt Manning/Tarik Skubal aren’t far off in this conversation either). That’s a reminder that picking first overall twice in three years can do a lot to help a farm system. But I just feel more comfortable with Torkelson’s safety as a position player vs. Mize’s more worrisome reliability record.

Any pitcher, even a fully healthy, never-been-injured one, has a higher injury risk than a first baseman. But in Mize’s case, he has missed time in multiple years with thankfully minor injuries. Mize has a slightly higher upside, as he could be a No. 1 starter if everything clicks and he proves he can be durable. But Torkelson’s ceiling as a potential home run champ isn’t far below that--if you are an exceptional hitter, position value starts to recede into the background.

Joe Healy: As a college baseball writer, it’s tough to choose, and I now know what parents mean when they joke about having to pick their favorite child. It’s tempting to go with Mize, just given that he’s two years ahead of Torkelson in the system and what we’ve seen of him so far has been really good, with the obvious caveat that he hasn’t always been healthy. That said, it’s so easy to see Torkelson getting dropped into the Tigers lineup and immediately becoming the type of impact bat they envision him being. When you combine that certainty of what he is as a ballplayer with the inherent risk that comes with pitchers, it’s Torkelson for me.

Kyle Glaser: You can’t really go wrong with either. Both players have a chance to be foundational pieces on a championship-caliber club - Mize at the front of the rotation and Torkelson in the middle of the lineup. Given the elevated injury risks inherent to pitchers and the fact Mize’s health has been a slight cause for concern already, I would lean slightly toward Torkelson if I had to choose one of the two. That said, I wouldn’t argue against anyone who picked Mize. Both are fantastic young players who have a chance to be franchise players in Detroit for years to come.

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