Greene, Tork provide hint of what's to come

Nos. 4, 5 prospects on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 building excitement in TigerTown

March 28th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers fans have been dreaming for the past couple years about Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson homering back-to-back in Detroit’s lineup. On Monday, they came within feet of providing fans at Joker Marchant Stadium a sneak preview of what’s to come at Comerica Park.

The Tigers’ dynamic duo of hitting prospects combined for 739 feet of drives in a three-pitch span in the eighth inning. While Greene’s mash to right-center went out for a first-pitch home run, Torkelson’s feast off a hanging slider bounced off the wall in center field for a double.

The combination punch wasn’t enough to lift Detroit out of what had been a nine-run deficit in an eventual 11-7 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees, but it gave a crowd of 7,495 something to remember on its way out.

It also gave the Tigers’ top two prospects -- and the Nos. 4 and 5 prospects on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 -- some positive reinforcement headed into a well-deserved off-day.

“Probably sleep in, for sure,” Torkelson said in anticipation of how he’ll spend the time. “Then a haircut.”

While the Tigers’ Major League camp is less than two weeks old, Torkelson and Greene have been in Spring Training for five weeks. They were part of Minor League minicamp last month.

“It’s kind of flown by, honestly,” Torkelson said. “I feel like days are so busy. You wake up and you’re doing something, whether it’s working out, hitting, throwing, fielding, game, talking to people on the bus. You’re doing something from 6 o’clock [in the morning] until 6:30 at night, so your days are pretty short, honestly.”

Moreover, they’ve been paying their dues in big league camp. While most veterans have had at least one day away from game action, Torkelson and Greene have been among the prospects that have been on every bus trip so far. Even on Sunday, when Torkelson was a pinch-runner against the Orioles and Greene didn’t play at all, they were together on the bus to Sarasota, Fla.

“I do the pregame stuff, take fly balls,” Greene said, “and if I’m not playing, I just try to be a good teammate, give high-fives, knuckle-bumps, whatever, maybe learn something.”

They’re top prospects, but they’re still subject to team rules.

“You have to earn your stripes,” Torkelson said. “We don’t mind it. We don’t have any big league time, so we’re going to go on every single trip.”

On the field, they’re certainly earning it. Two days after they saw 18 pitches combined in back-to-back walks against the Phillies, they needed just three pitches to do damage against Yankees Minor League pitcher Shawn Semple.

Much like Gleyber Torres ambushed the first pitch off Tigers Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez for a leadoff home run a couple of hours earlier, Greene jumped at Semple’s first-pitch fastball and lofted it into the Tigers’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall for his second homer of the spring. The 360-foot drive had just a .060 expected batting average according to Statcast, but it was arguably karma for his 384-foot fly out in his previous at-bat.

“New guy,” Greene said. “If he was throwing me a heater, or really anything in the zone, I feel like I was swinging. He’s going to want to come out and throw strikes, and he did.”

After manager A.J. Hinch talked last week about Greene being aggressive early in counts, it was fitting.

“Obviously it’s got to be count-specific or pitch-specific to what he’s trying to do,” Hinch said after the game. “But he’s going to be more free-swinger than not early in counts. That’s how he has always been. As the at-bat gets longer, I think his contact with two strikes has been really good, and it’s been nice to see. And obviously, he can ambush homers.”

Two pitches later, Torkelson came within a few feet of his first Grapefruit League Tork Bomb. His drive to center went soaring into the Florida sky, but also into the teeth of a breeze blowing in. Had he hit the same ball a day earlier in Sarasota, the wind would’ve carried it well out. Instead, Monday’s drive hit the base of the wall and bounced back toward the grass for his fourth double of the spring, tying him for the Grapefruit League lead as of Monday afternoon.

“Saving the long ball for the season,” Torkelson joked.

No one would’ve figured Torkelson would have his first Grapefruit League stolen base before his first homer. After entering the game as a pinch-runner on Sunday, he swiped second base in a double steal off Jordan Lyles.

“Don’t sleep on Tork’s wheels,” Greene said. “Tork is sneaky fast, I’m telling you. Once he gets going, it’s like a deer running.”

They then promptly busted out laughing. This is what it has been like for them in this Spring Training. If there’s any pressure, they’re not showing it.

Before the game, Hinch dismissed any notion that they had already made the Opening Day roster.

“Too soon,” said Hinch, who evaluates Spring Training on process more than results. “They still have things to do to make this team. I can’t put it any simpler than that.”

Still, with the at-bats they’re posting, hitting probably isn’t on the to-do list.