What to expect from Spencer Torkelson

April 6th, 2022

Miguel Cabrera hugged Spencer Torkelson as part of a big announcement at the end of Spring Training. He might as well have passed a torch in the process.

Ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect, Torkelson will make his Major League debut as the Tigers' first baseman on Opening Day, April 8 at home against the White Sox.

Detroit’s top prospect hit .280/.406/.440 over 12 games this spring as of late Saturday, exhibiting a good approach and contact rate that helped earn him a roster spot.

Of course, it’s the right-handed slugger’s prodigious power that many expect to play immediately at the game’s top level. Torkelson grades out as 70 power on the 20-80 scouting scale; the only other player to receive such a slugging grade on MLB Pipeline’s 2022 rankings is top overall prospect Bobby Witt Jr.

Torkelson’s reputation as a plus-plus slugger dates back to his early Arizona State days. He broke the Sun Devils' freshman home run record with 25 in 2018. The previous record holder: Barry Bonds with 11. Torkelson led the Pac-12 in homers for a second straight season with 23 more in 2019 and added six more in 17 games before the 2020 shutdown. He was on the cusp of breaking Bob Horner’s school career record of 56 dingers but was stopped by the pandemic.

The Tigers didn’t need to see much more of the pop, though, and selected Torkelson No. 1 overall in 2020. He proceeded to slug 30 homers across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A in his first full season while hitting .267/.383/.552 over 530 plate appearances. Those 30 homers were the most among 2020 Draft picks in 2021 and placed Torkelson tied for 11th across the entire Minor Leagues.

The former Sun Devil can generate such incredible pop due to his raw strength in the box and sound swing that makes it easy to put the barrel on the ball. He shows power to all fields as well and made it a focus to start going the opposite way at Triple-A Toledo in his late 2021 assignment there. The power plays because Torkelson isn’t a hacker at the plate; instead, he is selective and takes his walks when pitchers try to pitch him outside the zone.

It’s that combination of raw talent and advanced approach that not only makes Torkelson ready for The Show in his second season but also an immediate Rookie of the Year candidate in Detroit.

The Tigers made some waves by announcing Torkelson, a natural first baseman in college, at third base originally on Draft Day, and the 22-year-old did make 43 starts at the hot corner last season with only middling reviews due to a lack of range and just an average arm. However, he was first base-only after arriving at Triple-A in early August (including a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League), and he remained there for each of his defensive starts in Grapefruit League play this spring, with Cabrera’s blessing. The two-time MVP is expected to move to DH duties to accommodate Torkelson’s spot in the field.

Torkelson’s move to first base heightens his need to produce with the bat to provide Major League value, but given his present skills and lengthy track record, clearing that bar is not expected to be an issue. He could threaten for 40-plus homers at his Major League peak while providing a decent average and solid OBP immediately from the middle of the Detroit lineup.

Performances like those could play a central role in Detroit’s attempt to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.