Unwilling to settle, Tork not satisfied after '23

February 19th, 2024

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The cloud cover finally lifted over Joker Marchant Stadium after rain drenched the Tigers’ Spring Training complex for the better part of 36 hours. Many practice fields were too soggy for fielding drills, but they were just fine for players to take batting practice, allowing Riley Greene, Parker Meadows and Justice Bigbie to swing for Lake Parker Drive after doing outfield drills on the nearby artificial turf field.

For , the weather meant doing infield work in the stadium rather than on the back fields. He took the latest of what will likely be many throws from rookie second baseman Colt Keith, part of a generation of prospects that can now look up to the 24-year-old as a veteran. He reconnected with Hall of Famer and special assistant Alan Trammell, who has worked with him since he was drafted four years ago.

Next week will mark the three-year anniversary of Torkelson’s famous Spring Training mishap, when he tried to open a can of salsa without a can opener and sliced open his thumb. He went 1-for-27 with 16 strikeouts that spring before heading to High-A West Michigan for his climb up the organizational ladder.

That now feels like ages ago. Not only has Torkelson made the big leagues, he has a 31-homer season on his résumé, becoming the first Tiger with a 30-homer campaign since 2016. He is not satisfied.

Just because he knows he belongs, doesn’t mean he believes he has arrived.

“For me, it’s hard to be super happy with that year and be like, ‘I made it,’” Torkelson said. “I thought it was a good year, but it’s nowhere near what I believe I’m capable of.”

If the Tigers are going to get where they want to go this year, vaulting into playoff contention, they need more from Torkelson. He dominated his home stretch, batting .261 with 16 home runs, 10 doubles and a .921 OPS over his final 48 games, starting with a two-homer game against the Twins on Aug. 9. He also batted .234 with four homers, 24 RBIs and a .682 OPS over his first 55 games, an opening stretch that paralleled the team’s slow start.

“He made some adjustments and he continued to make adjustments in his process throughout the year,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “All of a sudden you look up and the scoreboard looked pretty good. The numbers he was putting up were pretty impactful.

“We do want him to continue on the path that allowed for August and September to be pretty eye-opening to a lot of people.”

Torkelson crushed the ball, ranking high on Statcast in hard-hit rate (94th percentile among MLB players), barrel rate (89th), exit velocity (87th) and expected slugging (84th). He also ranked around the average with a 24.7 percent swing-and-miss rate (52nd percentile), despite a stingy 23.6 percent chase rate (80th percentile) and a 9.8 percent walk rate (67th).

Torkelson showed his power last season, but while his production showed his faith in his swing, he wants to be more efficient with it.

“My swing is my swing, but I just wanted to perfect it and be more consistent with how good it can be,” he said.

Torkelson wants to get his best swing off as consistently as he can. And he wants to swing for the fences without feeling like he’s selling out for power.

“For me, effort level is huge,” he said. “When I’m hitting, I don’t want to swing as hard as I can. I want my power to be pretty effortless.”

For five days a week, Torkelson worked with Tigers hitting coach Michael Brdar, whose offseason home is not far from Torkelson in the Phoenix area. They not only worked on hitting, but fielding. Brdar hit him grounder after grounder, and he looked at Torkelson’s defensive metrics and translated them, trying to explain the wide splits in his numbers.

For instance, while Torkelson ranked average or slightly above going in most directions from first base on Statcast, he registered at minus-7 Outs Above Average moving to his right, towards the middle.

“I learned that the shift made first base really easy,” Torkelson said. “Any ball to my right, just head to first base. We’re going to get to that ball.”

Torkelson doesn’t want to lean on that, though. He doesn’t want to settle, much like with his offense.

“I’m here,” Torkelson said, “but we can get even further.”