The business of collecting baseball cards isn’t what it once was. In today’s digital age, the baseball card industry isn’t booming like it was decades ago; it’s more of a niche market.
But the smart collectors are still the ones who are able to figure out which incoming players are going to be the stars of tomorrow. And then scoop up the rookie cards for those players.
So, here’s a tip: Watch for the Spencer Torkelson rookie card.
The parallels to one of baseball’s best-ever hitters come to mind when considering the future potential of the Arizona State first baseman. Mickey Mantle was signed right out of high school in 1951 to a minor league contract with the New York Yankees. Seldom had there been more praise heaped on a youngster just getting ready to begin his professional baseball career. Expectations for Torkelson’s success, too, are off the chart.
‘The Mick’ signed for $150 a month and proved to be one of the best investments the Yankees ever made as he went on to be generally regarded as the best switch hitter to play the game and one of the most popular players to don a Yankee uniform. He retired with 536 home runs, third-most in MLB history at the time.
Today, Mantle’s rookie card is a valuable addition to any collection. Years from now, it could be a Torkelson card.
Torkelson, an ASU junior, was just selected by the Detroit Tigers as the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft, giving the Sun Devil coaches something to brag about while on the recruiting trail.
ASU, which has won five national titles, has a tradition-rich program that began in 1907 and boasts a parade of All-Americans, like Torkelson who is a two-time unanimous All-America selection. The Sun Devils have guided 152 players into the MLB draft, more than any other college in the country, and 22 of those have gone in the first round — second-most in NCAA history.
And with Torkelson’s selection Wednesday, the ASU program now lays claim to four No. 1 picks. That’s twice as many as any other college program (Vanderbilt has two).
But it’s been a long dry spell. ASU’s last No. 1 pick was 42 years ago.
It was no surprise this time around that the graduate of Casa Grande High School (Calif.) was the first one off the draft board. After leaving Casa Grande with a .430 career batting average and rating as the No. 9 third baseman in the country, he was considered a crown jewel in ASU’s 2017 recruiting class that was ranked 11th-best in the nation.
The right-handed hitter made an immediate impact as a freshman, leading the nation with 25 home runs, two more than any other player. It was that explosive freshman season when the Tigers took notice and started following his college career.
One of the most productive hitters in the history of the college game, Torkelson played two full seasons at ASU, and 17 games last season, before the coronavirus threat ended the season. Before the shut-down, he collected 54 home runs.
Had Torkelson been able to finish his college career with a full season (there were 39 games left to play), he should have easily bettered the school record of 56 homers that was set by the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft, Bob Horner. ASU’s other two top draft picks were Rick Monday in 1965 and Floyd Bannister in 1976.
Playing for the USA Collegiate National Baseball team the last two summers has also helped prepare the youngster for the tougher competition ahead. There wasn’t a whole lot more he could accomplish in college.
He owned the pitchers he faced in his final season, leading the nation with 31 walks, 10 more than any other player in the country. And 15 of those were intentional. Despite that, he reached base in all 17 games, batted .337, and posted a .780 slugging percentage. His .729 career slugging percentage is just shy of the program record .731.
Torkelson is the first player in the Pac-12 to be crowned home-run champion for three consecutive seasons.
Like Mantle, who was a first baseman who changed position and skyrocketed to stardom in center field, Torkelson, also a first baseman at ASU, is expected to play at third for the Tigers, the position he played in high school.
“I pride myself as a baseball player; you’re not stuck in any one position,” he said in an ESPN interview following his draft selection. “I pride myself on winning and getting the job done.
“If it’s third base, I’ll do my best over there and make it happen.”
(Photo: ASU Athletics)