Benefield: Former Empire baseball stars facing off in Bay Area
Catch this while you can.
Two of the best players in college baseball will face off in three games in Berkeley starting Friday. And they are two names area baseball fans, or just prep followers in general, should know. And know well.
Maria Carrillo grad Andrew Vaughn, the 2018 Golden Spikes Award winner as the best amateur player in the nation, and his California Golden Bears will host Casa Grande alum and Arizona State University sophomore Spencer Torkelson in a three-game series crucial to both teams’ late-season surges.
The Golden Bears are 29-17 overall and 14-10 in the Pac-12 while the Sun Devils are 35-10 and also 14-10 in the Pac-12.
But this is a story of the stars of these two teams.
Vaughn was the biggest name in college baseball last year and he’s a projected top 5 pick in next month’s Major League Baseball draft. This is a guy you could have caught playing in the North Bay League just three years ago.
And Torkelson, he was a freshman sensation last season.
He, too, is in the conversation as a top 5 MLB pick in 2020, with some pundits putting the right-handed first baseman as the first pick overall.
It’s stunning, really, that two local products have risen so far so fast and become part of the national baseball conversation.
And they will do battle over three days starting Friday. See what I mean by catch this while you can?
Granted, this preview of that series would have been much richer with the voices of the student-athletes themselves. Trust me on this when I say: I tried. Hard. Maybe next time.
So let’s let their numbers speak a little bit for them. We’ll call it mega-stats as a proxy for the mega-stars themselves.
Let’s start with the fact that both of them, naturally, are on the 2019 Golden Spikes Award watchlist.
Vaughn currently leads the Golden Bears with his .374 batting average, in hits (61), doubles (13), homers (14) and slugging percentage (.712).
Scouts are absolutely gaga about his power. But the other thing they love? His discipline at the plate. He leads his team (by a mile) in walks at 50 but has only struck out 28 times. That number is tied for lowest on the squad.
Torkelson, too, is leading the charge with his squad. He’s second only to Bishop Hunter in batting average, hitting .351; he’s second in runs (58), second in hits (73), second in doubles (13), second in homers (19), second in RBIs (57), and second in slugging percentage (.688). His on-base percentage is .448.
He’s the face of a team that shot out to an astonishing 21-0 season start before faltering some in April.
Baseball America calls Torkelson an early contender to go No. 1 in the 2020 major league draft.
For the second time in two years, Torkelson has been selected for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. He’ll suit up for three international friendly series in July in Cary, North Carolina.
That’s a team that the two local stars both played for last season. Two guys who grew up maybe 25 miles apart were both representing the U.S. for a chunk of the summer.
A stint with the U.S. team is not likely on Vaughn’s docket this summer. In a matter of weeks he will again likely find himself on amateur baseball’s center stage, hearing his name called by a big league team.
Until then, the two locals will face off in a series that means a ton to their teams.
After the stand in Berkeley, the Sun Devils head home to host Stanford in the final series of their Pac-12 season. Cal heads north to Seattle to play the Washington Huskies.
This Cal-vs.-ASU series ended with more of a whimper than a bang last season.
The Golden Bears took two of three, but that wasn’t good enough to earn the team a spot in the postseason. The Sun Devils, too, were denied a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Both teams are in better position this time around.
And better still, both stars are aligned to be visible in broad daylight in Berkeley this weekend. Catch them while you can.
You can reach staff columnist 707-Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.