The Tigers announced Spencer Torkelson as a third baseman when they selected him with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft. That was in spite of the fact that Torkelson was primarily a first baseman/corner outfielder at Arizona State University, where fellow prospects Alika Williams, Drew Swift and Gage Workman generally covered the more demanding positions on the dirt. The primary selling point for Torkelson has always been his bat, but there was no harm for the Tigers in giving him some action on a position of higher import in the minors.
Last season, Torkelson started 75 minor league games at first base while logging 43 starts at the hot corner. He played exclusively first base upon reaching Triple-A in mid-August, though, and Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press writes that he’s worked solely at first thus far in minor league minicamp. Petzold suggests the Tigers view Torkelson as a permanent first baseman moving forward. That’s largely been the opinion of most prospect evaluators anyhow, yet the 22-year-old is still regarded among the top handful of minor league talents in the game. After hitting .267/.383/.552 across three levels in his first full professional season, Torkelson was rated by Baseball America as the sport’s No. 5 overall farmhand. He figures to be the Tigers regular first baseman before long, where’d he join Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario and Javier Baez in the primary infield.
More out of the Motor City:
- Petzold also profiles fellow top prospect Riley Greene, the No. 5 overall selection from the 2019 draft, noting that Greene has a “good chance” to break camp with the Major League club in 2022. Greene, ranked by Baseball America as the game’s No. 4 overall prospect (one spot ahead of Torkelson), will vie with former first-rounder Derek Hill and Victor Reyes for an outfield spot alongside veteran Robbie Grossman and Rule 5 sensation Akil Baddoo. The 21-year-old Greene posted a massive .301/.387/.534 with 24 home runs, 25 doubles, eight triples and 16 stolen bases (in 17 attempts). Greene did fan in 27.4% of his plate appearances, but his power and a hearty 11.3% walk rate helped to combat those punchouts. If Greene does break camp with the big league club, he’d be penciled in as manager AJ Hinch’s everyday center fielder. It’d be a departure from conventional industry wisdom, as top minor leaguers such as Greene and Torkelson are regularly held down for a few weeks early in the season to secure a seventh year of club control. The Tigers are aiming to get back to contention this season, however, and an extra few weeks of their best prospect(s) could prove vital in that regard. It’s also possible, of course, that changes to the service time mechanics are agreed upon under the forthcoming collective bargaining agreement anyhow.
- Right-handed pitching prospect Zack Hess will miss the entire 2022 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in January, reports Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (Twitter link). Hess, who’ll turn 25 this week, ranks 25th among Detroit farmhands over at FanGraphs and, based on his 2021 output, might’ve eventually emerged as a big league bullpen option in 2022 had he been healthy. The 2019 seventh-rounder posted a combined 3.42 ERA and punched out 29.6% of his opponents between Class-A Advanced (49 2/3 innings) and Double-A (three innings) this past season. He also allowed just six homers in that time (1.02 HR/9). The big red flag for Hess was command, as he also issued a free pass to 15% of his opponents. Hess will need to improve upon that command, of course, but he won’t have the opportunity to hone that skill until the 2023 season at the earliest, it seems.