Torkelson has star power at Tigers' minicamp

February 21st, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- One round after another, Spencer Torkelson took batting practice swings at Tigertown on Monday, sending drives toward the fire training facility beyond the practice field fence. But the slugging prospect’s best offering on a tee came in the interview session afterward.

Asked if he had done anything fitness-wise in his offseason workouts since his lengthy first pro season ended in the Arizona Fall League, Torkelson estimated he was about 10 pounds lighter.

“I probably give credit to my girlfriend,” Torkelson said. “She cooked a lot in the offseason, so I wasn’t DoorDash-ing a bunch. So I ate a lot cleaner.”

She isn’t in Florida for Spring Training, so unless his roommates chip in, Torkelson has to figure things out himself.

“If I do need [a can opener], I’m going to go to the store. I’m not going to use a knife,” Torkelson said with a knowing smile. “Tough subject.”

Good answer.

A year ago this week, Torkelson, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball, had the mishap that accidentally became the defining moment of his first Spring Training. With no can opener on hand at his rental house, he tried to improvise his way into a can of salsa and sliced his thumb in the process. The injury was arguably more to his pride, but he took it in good stride, then and now.

Torkelson was the new kid in Major League camp then and was still learning his way around. By contrast, as he begins working out in Minor League minicamp this week, he’s one of the Tigers’ biggest stars, evidenced by the crowd of autograph seekers that awaited him between the practice fields and the clubhouse following batting practice.

He’s also one of the few Tigers players in Minor League minicamp with a legit chance to make the Major League roster when the season begins.

“The mindset is similar, and [yet] it’s a lot different, because there’s a chance,” Torkelson said. “But I think you just work hard every day, grind it out, show them that you can play at the big league level and let the big guys make the decisions.”

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch cannot take an active part in these workouts. All he can do is observe. The team’s player development department runs the minicamp, which features more than 60 players ranging from top prospects to Triple-A veterans to recent Draft picks to international signings who have yet to play stateside.

Monday marked the first day of workouts for position players; pitchers began working out last week. Pitchers and hitters are set to begin facing off on Wednesday, which brings up another difference from last year.

Though last Spring Training marked some of Torkelson’s first hacks as a professional hitter, the expectations from his college slugging days were still lofty, which made his 1-for-27 performance in Grapefruit League play a headline. It was a humbling experience that followed him into his first couple weeks at High-A West Michigan. He went 9-for-50 with 14 walks and 18 strikeouts over his first 14 games before hitting his first professional homer on May 22. 

From that breakthrough game on, Torkelson batted .278 (106-for-381) with 30 homers, 83 RBIs and a .981 OPS across three Minor League levels. In the process, he learned a little about himself, from his swing to his fortitude. If there was any lingering question about Torkelson as a hitter when he left Lakeland last year, there are none in his return.

“I’ve got a little more perseverance than I thought,” Torkelson said. “Battling through the first month, it wasn’t easy. But looking back on it, I’m glad it happened. It made me a stronger and better player.”

The minicamp workouts are about more than batting practice. They also feature a healthy amount of defensive drills and fundamental work. For Torkelson, that meant taking ground balls again Monday from Hall of Famer and special assistant Alan Trammell, who has toiled tirelessly with Torkelson ever since the corner infielder was drafted first overall in 2020.

It’s good catch-up work for Torkelson, whose offseason baseball work waited for just over a month while he recovered from a sprained ankle that brought an early end to his Arizona Fall League campaign. He might be thinner, but he’s stronger, he said, which he hopes to utilize by being quicker to connect with pitches on his swing.