The Tigers announced to reporters, including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, that first baseman Spencer Torkelson has been optioned to Triple-A Toledo. The corresponding move will be announced later, as today’s game was postponed due to rain, meaning the Tigers don’t play again until after the All-Star break.
The first overall selection of the 2020 draft, Torkelson immediately shot onto prospect lists, with Baseball America ranking him #5 overall in 2021. Torkelson did nothing to diminish his prospect status last year, as he mashed at High-A, then got promoted to Double-A and Triple-A all in one year. Across those three levels, he hit 30 home runs, 29 double and a pair of triples, producing an overall batting line of .267/.383/.552. He walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances and struck out in 21.5% of them.
Coming into 2022, he was again slotted into the #5 spot on BA’s prospect list and seemed poised for big things after cracking the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet been able to translate his immense hitting ability to the big leagues. Through his first 298 plate appearances, he has hit just .197/.282/.295, resulting in a 68 wRC+. Put another way, that’s production 32% worse than league average.
Torkelson is still capable of putting a charge into the ball, as his max exit velocity is considered to be in the 80th percentile, according to Statcast. However, his hard hit percentage is just 39th percentile and his barrel percentage just 37th, suggesting that he’s not lining up the ball with consistency.
While it’s surely a disappointing result for the Tigers and their fans, it’s worth remembering that there’s still plenty of time for Torkelson to turn things around. He only spent one year in the minors before the aggressive push by the club to add him to the big league team. He’s still just 22 years old, turning 23 in August. Since the club is 37-55 and has no hope of a postseason push this year, they can afford to take whatever steps they think give Torkelson the best chance of long-term success, which they think will be some time in the minors.
Manager A.J. Hinch spoke to reporters about the decision today (Twitter links from Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic and Jason Beck of MLB.com), saying that they want to get him back on track away from the scrutiny that comes from being in the big leagues. “It’s much less spotlight to do it in Triple A than it is to continue to do this in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “He’s too good a hitter for us to just continue to let him grind at this level and not reach the desired results.”
As for the timeline or Torkelson’s return, it seems like that will be dependent on his results. “I told Tork it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks, could be a month. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get him back to feeling good.” The length of time of this optional assignment could potentially have impacts for Torkelson down the line in terms of arbitration and free agency. Since he made the club’s Opening Day roster, he was in line to earn a full year of MLB service time, setting him up to reach arbitration after the 2024 campaign and free agency after 2027. A major league season is 187 days long, but it takes just 172 days on a big league roster for a player to earn a full year of service time. If Torkelson misses more than two weeks of action, he could come up short of the one-year mark here in 2022, therefore pushing his free agency back by a year. Players also reach arbitration after three years, though it’s also possible to qualify as a Super Two player, with the top 22% of players between two and three years service time being eligible. That means the target moves slightly each year, oscillating from 2.115 to 2.146 since 2009.