(Reuters) – The Detroit Tigers drafted Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the first pick of the 2020 MLB draft on Wednesday, the same day the league’s commissioner said baseball would return this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The 20-year-old Torkelson, who played first base in college but was announced as a third baseman, established himself as one of the best hitters in NCAA history, batting .337 with 54 home runs and 130 runs batted in (RBI) in 127 career games with the Sun Devils.
Arkansas Razorbacks outfielder Heston Kjerstad was selected second by the Baltimore Orioles and the University of Minnesota’s hard-throwing right handed pitcher Max Meyer was taken third by the Miami Marlins.
Towering Texas A&M pitcher Asa Lacy was taken fourth by the Kansas City Royals and Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin rounded out the top five of the draft, which was being held remotely due to the pandemic.
Unlike the NBA and NFL drafts, players taken in the MLB draft do not typically play for their teams right away as they work their way through the organization’s lower tiers.
Earlier in the day, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN that while negotiations between the MLB Players Association and the 30 team owners are ongoing, he said he was confident baseball would return in 2020.
The two sides have been locked in acrimonious negotiations for weeks over the length of the season and player pay.
The players latest proposal included 89 games with full prorated salaries but ESPN reported that owners considered the length of the season a “nonstarter.”
Manfred on Wednesday said the owners would soon offer a counter proposal but guaranteed a return to play.
“I’ll tell you unequivocally — we will play Major League Baseball this year,” Manfred said.
MLB was in spring training when the virus upended the global sports calendar earlier this year and the sport missed its Opening Day scheduled for March 26.
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Christian Schmollinger